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Why Organisations need to have a Grievance Procedure

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Why Organisations need to have a Grievance Procedure

Published: 09-07-2008

Disputes occur frequently in organisations big and small across the country. Thankfully most are resolved in an informal way internally and do not end up as a costly and time consuming case at the Labour Relations Commission, the Employment Appeals Tribunal or the Labour Court. In fact conflict is normal and largely unavoidable and if harnessed correctly can be used to benefit your organisation in order to stimulate creativity and facilitate change.

It is important to be able to deal with disputes effectively and this means having a forum allowing employees to communicate any grievances, issues or complaints that may arise. This allows the organisation to resolve the issue in a constructive and effective manner thereby reducing the risk of any future issues including litigation. In order to do this you need to have a grievance procedure and this article will examine the importance of having such a procedure and will give guidance on how to manage the grievance process effectively.

Organisations which do not have an adequate grievance procedure are exposed on a number of fronts. The lack of procedures can lead to claims of constructive dismissal when an employee claims that they had no option but to resign their employment as a result of the way they had been treated. Tribunals will look at whether there was a grievance procedure in place and whether the employee used this procedure before resigning.

If an employee feels unfairly treated this can result in a serious and potentially costly claim of discrimination. Again this can often be avoided by having an internal disputes resolution procedure aka a grievance procedure.

Organisations should have a separate Bullying and Harassment policy but the same principle applies to an employee who feels bullied and again allows for any allegations to be investigated by management. Furthermore it is accepted that having no grievance procedure can lead to low morale and a resistance to change amongst the workforce which can in turn result in poor performance and reduced efficiency.

Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures

The Labour Relations Commission has written a Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures which should be referred to when drafting a policy. The main purpose of this Code of Practice is to provide guidance to employers, employees and their representatives on the general principles which apply in the operation of grievance procedures. All grievances should be considered as a potential dispute and therefore be dealt with in accordance with the organisation's policy.

Stages in the procedure

The first stage of the procedure should allow for an informal meeting with an immediate supervisor to discuss the problem and to try and reach some form of resolution.

If the employee is not satisfied with this or they wish to appeal an outcome of the first stage, then they can put their grievance in writing and this can be investigated formally by a more senior member of management.

Depending on the size of the organisation there may be another stage which will allow for an additional meeting. At each stage the employee should be afforded the right to be accompanied by a representative who can be a work colleague or a trade union official. It is important to keep written notes at each stage of the formal procedure and therefore a note taker should be present who will take minutes.

Conducting the meeting

When following the grievance procedure it is important that the meeting is scheduled within a reasonable timeframe. An appropriate, private venue should be organised and enough time left for the meeting. During the meeting the employee should be informed of the purpose and structure of the meeting and they should be informed that notes will be taken.

They should then be given the opportunity to explain their grievance or to elaborate further on a statement that they have submitted. It is the job of the investigating manager to ensure that they ask the necessary questions to get to the root of the grievance. Techniques such as probing questions and reflective listening should be used to ensure that the manager probably understands the nature of the grievance. Also a useful technique is to summarise what the employee has said to make sure that all parties agree on what needs to be examined. The employee should always be asked how they would like to see the issue resolved and the manager may suggest some alternative solutions and see whether these would be acceptable to the employee.

If further investigating is warranted that the employee is informed of the timeframe. Once the meeting has been concluded and a decision has been reached the employee should be informed of the outcome and what their options are if a further stage of the procedure exists.

Many organisations are recognising the importance of conflict resolution and will sometimes employ the services of an external mediator to attempt to assist in resolving the dispute. It is important that at the very least organisations have a Grievance Policy and that all managers who may have responsibility have received adequate training.

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