By Michelle Gyimah, HR Consultant, Equality Pays

A grievance is simply an employment term for a workplace complaint. It is a complaint by an employee about a work situation they are not happy with. There are two types of grievances:

Informal grievance – where someone raises an issue verbally and the line manager /business owner deals with it quickly and without requiring any paperwork. These can be useful, but only really for small matters that don’t require an investigation.

Formal grievance – this is for a more serious issue that is put into writing and would require a meeting, investigation into the problem and an action plan about what the next steps are.

As a business owner or line manager it’s inevitable that you will have to deal with employee grievances from time to time. If you are faced with a grievance, don’t panic.

It’s always best to have your own grievance policy which sets out how you will deal with one and the timescales you will be using. If you don’t have one yet don’t worry, for now it’s ok to follow the ACAS version. Once you have dealt with your current grievance, my advice would be to develop your own.

In the meantime, here are 10 important factors to include when holding a formal grievance meeting.

1. Set it out in writing

Your employee should have set out in writing what the grievance is about. This can be in the form of an e-mail or letter. When you get the letter or e-mail make sure that you let your employee know that you have received it and that you will let them know what happens next.

2. Organise a meeting

Decide who the most appropriate person in your workplace to hold the grievance meeting is. It mustn’t be the person who is being complained about or anyone named in the grievance. The person should be impartial and understand how grievance meetings should be run.

Invite the employee to a meeting to discuss their grievance. Do this in writing and confirm that they have received the e-mail or letter. Refer to your grievance policy for time limits as you need to do this ‘within reasonable time.’ Five working days is usually the benchmark.

Depending on the nature of the grievance it could take over an hour, so make sure the room is private, will be free for the duration of the meeting and is comfortable enough for everyone.

3. Right to be accompanied

All employees have the right to be accompanied by another employee or trade union/employee representative. Make sure that you inform your employee of this, as it is their statutory right to be accompanied if they wish.

4. Special requirements

If your employee has any special requirements like needing an interpreter, then make sure you provide it. Ask your employee if they require any special requirements before the meeting. This will give you time to arrange it and will help your employee feel that you are taking their complaint seriously.

5. Maintain neutrality

The purpose of the meeting is to allow your employee to explain their concerns. The person holding the meeting must not be involved in the complaint issue in any way. The same applies for anyone taking minutes.

The meeting is just a fact finding meeting, not a decision making meeting.
When asking questions stick to factual ones. What? Where? When? How? Why do you think that?
Never offer opinions or try to influence their words or thoughts.

6. Record keeping

It is very important that you keep a record of the meeting. You can do this via a minute taker or recording the meeting to be transcribed afterwards (if you choose this option then you must obtain written consent from your employee first and then give them a copy of the transcript afterwards). Recording the meeting is rare, as most people rely on minutes instead.

Make sure you tell your employee how the minutes will be recorded and re-assure them that no-one outside of those involved in the grievance will be made aware of what is being discussed.

7. Meeting agenda

Set an agenda. Without one the meeting will have no structure and will not be a satisfactory grievance hearing.

• Introduce the purpose of the meeting, everyone in the room and their purpose (i.e. minute taker and trade union rep)
• If the employee is accompanied, verify whether they are an employee or union representative
• Review the written grievance and ask the employee to begin talking you through their grievance letter
• Ask the employee for evidence supporting their claims and summarise each of the points raised (if there are multiple points).
• If they have a representative, at the end, ask them if they want to add any other points.
• Before the end of the meeting. Ask if there are any other points that need to be raised.
• End the meeting by thanking everyone for attending and explain that you will inform them of your next steps and decision in writing as soon as possible. If you have a grievance policy, refer to this for timelines. ACAS states that this should be ‘without unreasonable delay.’ Use your discretion, but make sure that it is not dragged out unnecessarily.

8. Making a decision

You need to review all of the evidence that the employee presented in the meeting. You may find that you need to do an investigation and question other members of staff to be able to reach a conclusion. If you need to do an investigation, then inform your employee of this and explain how this will work.

Never make a decision at the end of the grievance meeting. If you did so, it would look like the decision was predetermined. Always go away, review the evidence, do an investigation (if you need to) and then come to your conclusions based on the evidence you have.

9. Inform them of the decision

Provide your employee with a copy of the minutes and a written copy of your decision. The e-mail or letter should outline the following:

• The decision
• How and why you have reached your decision (based on evidence presented)
• What actions will be taken
• What the next steps are

10. Right of appeal

If your employee is unhappy with the decision made, then they have a right of appeal. The appeal must be heard by a neutral person not connected to the original complaint or meeting in any way. The ACAS guide has more information on how to manage appeals.

Running a grievance can seem daunting and in some cases if handled badly can land you in tribunal. But if you follow these 10 points, it will take the ‘sting’ out of doing them and will make it much easier and more professional.