Setting up a grievance procedure.
As a result of the Employment Relations Act 1999 and a new code of practice from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), workers have acquired new legal rights to be accompanied at disciplinary and grievance hearings. The new code, sets the standards which employers need to meet if they want to avoid tribunal claims against them.
Many grievances cannot be settled by a single meeting. A thorough grievance procedure goes further by providing a process, involving more than one level of management, which both the employer and employee can follow to reach an acceptable conclusion to the problem. Settling grievances quickly and fairly means they do not fester and grow.
A grievance procedure provides an employee with a hierarchical structure for presenting and settling a grievance at work. The procedure defines the type of grievance it covers, the individuals responsible at each stage, the presentation and documentation of a grievance, and the time limits by which the grievance must be presented and dealt with at each stage.
Advantages of setting up a grievance procedure
By implementing a grievance procedure, an organisation:
* complies with, and surpasses, the requirements of employment legislation
* can prevent a minor grievance becoming a major problem
* conveys a "caring" attitude to its employees.
Disadvantages of setting up a grievance procedure
There are no real disadvantages to implementing a grievance procedure, but remember it:</p> <pre> requires time and resources to be effective
can deter an employee from presenting a grievance if it is too
formal. </pre> <p>Action checklist
1. Define the terms of reference
Decide which types of grievance the procedure will cover; often grievance procedures in such areas as sexual or racial harassment, job grading and collective disputes have their own process for settlement. Identify who the procedure is aimed at (for example, shop-floor workers only) and the levels of management that will be involved in settling the grievances.
2. Draw up the procedure
Consult with other members of the organisation, including trade union representatives, to devise a procedure. Try to obtain samples of procedures used in other organisations. Write the procedure in simple straightforward language so that it is easy to understand.
The procedure should contain the following:
* Types of grievance
List the types of grievances the process covers. Refer other types of complaint to the appropriate procedures (eg sexual harassment).
* The stages involved
Initially the aggrieved should be encouraged to have an informal meeting with their immediate superior to discuss the problem and see if they can work it out without using the formality of the procedure. If this does not work then the first stage of the procedure should be a formal meeting with the aggrieved and their immediate superior (give an alternative, such as the personnel manager, in case the supervisor is party to the complaint; however, the alternative should not be one of the higher levels of referral). By making the immediate supervisor the first point of contact, their level of authority is not undermined.
The number of stages, where the employee progressively meets with higher levels of management, will depend on many factors, including the size of the organisation. There should be at least two stages to provide a minimum of one level of appeal, but too many stages can mean the process is lengthy and offputting. The name or preferably the job title of the person responsible for grievances at each level should be given.
The last stage should be referral to an external body such as an independent arbitrator or conciliator like the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), should it not be possible to settle the grievance internally.
* Representation at meetings
A colleague or trade union representative should be allowed to accompany or represent the aggrieved at each meeting if they so wish. Specify at what stage the employee is entitled to representation--this can depend on the situation and the relationship between management and unions. The procedure represents the formal acceptance by management of the employee's representative as an equal partner in trying to settle the grievance.
* Time limits
Realistic time limits should be set (in working days) for the presentation of the complaint and the management response at each stage. This time limit will get longer as the grievance moves up the hierarchy to more senior management, since the problem will be of a more serious nature and will require more time to deal with. A proviso could be included permitting the extension of time-limits by mutual agreement.
* Presentation and documentation of a grievance
The initial presentation of a grievance need only be made verbally with the immediate supervisor. A written presentation might deter those who feel theirs is a minor grievance. Brief documentation should be kept of this meeting. For each stage thereafter, a record of information and events, including supporting arguments and evidence, should be kept to pass up through the stages for those not familiar with the grievance. The record should be agreed by the manager concerned and countersigned by the employee and/or their representative. This helps to ensure there are no misunderstandings when an agreement on resolving the problem has been reached.
* Guidelines for the interviewer
The way in which the person responsible should prepare for and handle the grievance interview should be included.
* Status quo clause
Arrange a status quo clause with the trade unions so that any industrial action will be deferred until a grievance has completed the full procedure.
3. Draw up an implementation timetable
In a large organisation it is often better to pilot the grievance procedure on one site or large department before full implementation.
4. Provide training for managers and supervisors
Conducting a grievance interview effectively is not easy. Training should be given to all managers and supervisors who may have to deal with a grievance. Ensure that they are aware of the limits of their and others' authority and that they understand the mechanics of the procedure, for example the number of working days in which they should have replied to a grievance and the documentation they should keep. Giving training to those responsible for holding interviews will help solve problems as close as possible to the point of their origin.
5. Communicate and implement the procedure
Ensure that staff are aware of the procedure (a letter should be sent to all employees along with a copy of the procedure), when the procedure will come into effect, and who the relevant managers are for each stage. Explain that the procedure has been introduced to benefit employees by providing them with a systematic way of airing grievances and reaching an amicable agreement in as short a time as possible. The same information should be given to new recruits; a copy should be attached to all noticeboards and included in the staff manual. Ensure staff have a contact who can answer any questions which may arise.
6. Evaluate the procedure
Regular evaluation of the procedure will contribute towards its improvement. The number of grievances and settlements, the subject matter of individual grievances and any levels of management that seem to have difficulties in handling grievances should be identified. Grievance records can help to analyse trends in causes of grievance. Employees who have used the procedure to settle a grievance should be questioned to ascertain any problems they may have had. It is essential to check that the procedure has been applied fairly and consistently in all cases.
7. Make changes/modifications
Alterations should be made to combat any of the problems highlighted in the evaluation. This may include offering extra training to certain managers or removing a stage in the procedure. Make sure the names or job titles of managers responsible for grievances at each stage are updated as necessary.
8. Feedback the results
Communicate the success of the procedure to all employees and let them know of any changes to be made.
Dos and don'ts for setting up a grievance procedure
* Try to obtain copies of procedures used in other organisations.
* Define the types of grievance the procedure will cover.
* Train those who will be involved at each stage of the procedure.
* Make the initial stage too formal, as some grievances may not be aired.
* Set unrealistic time limits.
* Forget to allow the aggrieved an alternative to their line manager initially.
Employee relations 4th ed, John Gennard and Graham Judge London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2005
Disciplinary and grievance procedures: a guide to the new law, Labour Research Department London: LRD Publications Ltd, 2004
Managing conflict at work: a survey of the UK and Ireland London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development,2004
Producing disciplinary and grievance procedures London: Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service, 2004
Statutory disciplinary and grievance procedures, Incomes Data Services London, 2004
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), Brandon House, 180 Borough High Street, London, SE1 1LW
Tel: 020 7210 3613 www.acas.org.uk
* Have you ever held a grievance at work? What did you do? Do you know how to handle a complaint from a member of staff?