As an employer (particularly a small business owner), you are likely dealing with internal issues with staff on a regular basis. Having a grievances policy in place can help you deal effectively with these issues.

This article will set out:

  • the reasons for having a grievances policy;
  • what your policy should include; and
  • a case study of how it works in practice.

Why Have a Grievances Policy?

There are two key reasons to set up a grievances policy:

  1. staff management; and
  2. legal risk reduction.

1. Staff Management

It is important that staff feel that their grievances are taken seriously.

Therefore, by using a grievances policy, you can ensure that there are fair processes in place to deal with staff concerns, along with procedures for collecting and noting where the same grievances keep arising.

2. Legal Risk Reduction 

Complaints made in the workplace do not exist in a bubble and there could be legal consequences that accompany a complaint. Accordingly, you should always consider the reason for an employee’s complaint. For example:

  • Is the employee experiencing bullying, discrimination or workplace harassment? If so, they may later make an official bullying, discrimination or harassment claim.
  • Is the employee complaining because they disagree with a process of performance management or termination? If so, they may later make an unfair dismissal or general protections claim.
  • Are they suffering mental health consequences due to you not providing a safe working environment? If so, you may be in breach of your work, health and safety obligations.

With each type of complaint, it is very important to demonstrate that, as an employer, you have:

  • taken the appropriate steps to address the problematic conditions; and
  • protected the employee where possible.

What Should You Include in Your Grievances Policy?

Your grievances policy should address five key matters.

1. Purpose

Firstly, set out the purpose of the policy at the beginning. Make it clear that it is a process which should be flexible to each situation; you do not want to be stuck using a constrictive policy if there are other issues at play.

2. Definition

Secondly, you should set out what a ‘grievance’ is and how it relates to the policy.

For example, you may describe a grievance as a concern that an employee has about their workplace, colleagues or manager.

3. Confidentiality 

To ensure that your staff members feel comfortable and safe in airing their grievance, it may be useful to ensure a degree of confidentiality. Make clear that this degree may vary depending on the exact nature of the complaint and the process of investigation.

For example, you may need to bring up the complaint to other staff members in order to get their view on exactly what happened.

In more extreme cases, you may need to bring up the complaint to a third party. Your policy should describe how such complaints will be treated.

4. Grievance Process

Your policy should set out the different options for resolving complaints and the overarching principles of procedural fairness. These will depend on the nature of the complaint and the person complaining. Some options you could use are discussed below.

Direct Resolution

The first step is usually to get the parties together to discuss the issue directly. Your policy should set out what this step is and how it can be carried out.

For example, does the employee first need to raise the issue with the person involved and give them a chance to resolve the problem? Is there a formal procedure in place that must be followed in this circumstance? 

Discussion with Supervisor

In some situations, it is not practical or wise to raise the complaint with the person causing the issue. In your policy, you should indicate the kinds of circumstances where it is appropriate to raise the complaint with their direct manager first. It is also useful to provide an alternate person to whom employees can complain to, particularly if the complaint involves their direct manager.

The policy should set out the types of follow-up action that may be taken so the employee knows what to expect. This could include:

  • investigating the complaint;
  • meeting with the relevant parties; and
  • suspending the person against whom the complaint is made.

Resolution

Additionally, your policy should set out the types of conflict resolutions that may be appropriate. This also allows employees to be aware of what to expect and some of the potential outcomes.

Some resolutions could include:

  • receiving an apology;
  • counselling;
  • suspension or termination;
  • additional training;
  • involving the police or authorities; or
  • a finding that the complaint is not substantiated.  

5. Unsubstantiated Complaints

Finally, sometimes after an investigation, you may find:

  • that the action complained of did not take place and that the employee’s complaint was for another reason (such as dislike); or
  • there was not sufficient evidence to take any action against the other employee.

Your policy should set out what would happen in these kinds of situations. For example, you may investigate the person making the complaint to see why they made the complaint in the first place.

Case Study: Grievances Policy in Action

In this hypothetical case study, Paul is a personal assistant who works in a tech company. A new colleague, Mark, starts at his workplace. Mark makes additional demands on Paul that are outside his job description, like asking that he gets his dry cleaning. Mark is also condescending and rude to Paul.

Accordingly, Paul decides to look over his business’ grievances policy to check the most appropriate way to complain about Mark.

As Paul does not know Mark very well and is not sure how he will react, he speaks to his manager Sophie first. However, Sophie feels that Paul is overreacting and should “get over it”.

Since Paul is unhappy with that response, he decides to discuss the issue with his team leader Grace. After checking that Paul is happy for the complaint to be discussed with the others involved, Grace investigates the situation. She finds that the actions Paul is complaining about have taken place.

Grace meets Paul to discuss the appropriate next steps. Paul wants Mark fired and finds him too annoying to work with. However, Grace and Sophie do not agree with this course of action, but instead decide that Mark will undergo a disciplinary process. If his behaviour continues into the future, he may terminated. 

Key Takeaways

Ultimately, a grievances policy helps protect your business and is a useful tool in managing your staff. It can help promote a healthy and fair workplace and provide guidance to employees and employers alike.

Therefore, if you want assistance drafting a grievances policy tailored to your business, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Edith Moss
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