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Can a well-run grievance procedure prevent an employee ‘going rogue’?

Meredith Hurst Wednesday, November 29, 2017

While many people would have been delighted to hear the news that Donald Trump's twitter account was taken off air for 11 minutes a couple of weeks ago by an employee as she was leaving, further reflection might raise concerns. Imagine if one of your employees decided to take similar action. How could this damage your business? What would the impact be? And what could you do? An employee with a grievance can be a real threat to your business, so it's in your interests to have the mechanisms in place to allow those issues to be resolved.

The role of the grievance procedure

Prevention will always be better than cure. Creating and maintaining a positive workplace culture will play a big part in fostering loyalty among your employees and reduce the chances of one of them taking matters into their own hands. A huge part of workplace culture is down to the leadership team, and their 'soft skills' in managing staff. As vital as these skills are, it's also important to make sure your organisation complies with the latest employment laws and best practice, and follows its own procedures.

In 2009, the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures replaced the minimum standards for discipline and grievance processes that had been a legal requirement. The ACAS Code is a framework for resolving workplace grievances (and disciplinary matters). It's not a legal requirement to follow the Code, but any employer would be wise to do so. If the situation cannot be resolved and the employee brings a successful tribunal claim, the tribunal can increase the compensation by up to 25% if an employer unreasonably fails to comply with the Code.

Running a transparent grievance procedure, publicising its existence and showing employees that grievances are taken seriously should go a long way to combat the kind of rogue action Twitter experienced - so how do you go about getting it right?

Overriding principles for handling grievances

The ACAS Code is very clear that fairness is paramount for an organisation handling a grievance. Complaints or concerns should be dealt with promptly, and consistently. Employees should also act consistently. The employer should investigate the complaints, give the employee the right of reply to any investigations and allow the employee to be accompanied at any grievance hearing.

Drafting a Grievance Procedure

Drafting a grievance procedure should be fairly straightforward. The ACAS Code encourages employees to act promptly if they have concerns, so you can draw this out in your internal procedure. Detail the chain of escalation - who your employees should complain to in the first instance, and any alternatives. For example if the grievance should be raised with the line manager in the first instance, but the line manager is part of the problem for the employee, there should be an alternative route for him or her to raise the grievance. There should be an opportunity for an investigation and a hearing, a written decision and the opportunity to appeal. You can also make sure there's a clear opportunity for resolving grievances informally before the formal procedure is invoked.

Once you have your grievance procedure in place, keep it under review to make sure it remains compliant with any changes, either as the result of legislation or case law, or because your experience handling grievances suggests the policy needs tweaking.

Consequences of not following a grievance procedure

If the grievance procedure is contractual (as it is in some organisations) a failure to follow it is an express breach of contract and would entitle the employee to resign. However, as the case of Blackburn v Aldi Stores demonstrates, a failure to follow a non-contractual grievance procedure can be a breach of trust and confidence, and lead to a constructive dismissal claim. Perhaps a more serious consequence of failing to follow a grievance procedure is the message you send out to staff that their grievances are unimportant. The flip side is that by demonstrating to your staff that you are committed to them, you will foster loyalty and hopefully prevent the kind of damage that a disgruntled employee can cause.

In the Trump Twitter case, it's not entirely clear whether the employee had unresolved grievances with her employer, saw an opportunity to make a political statement against Trump or simply wanted a little piece of internet fame. This doesn't mean you shouldn't assume the same couldn't happen in your own organisation. Audit your grievance procedure regularly to make sure it's both transparent and robust, take grievances seriously, and follow the ACAS Code. We're here to help you get it right, so if you have any questions about  your grievance procedure generally, or if you are grappling with a difficult grievance in real time and could do with some support, get in touch.

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