I have a small business and an employee has taken out a grievance against me. Who hears it?

I’ve just received a letter from an employee saying she was not happy with the way I gave her feedback on a project she was leading. I’m the Managing Director. She has mentioned in the letter that she is treating it as a formal grievance. We don’t have a policy.

 

What do I do?

All employees have the right to formally raise a grievance, and a fundamental principle is that it will be fairly and objectively heard and responded to. So, as an owner/manager, if you have a complaint that implicates you, it cannot be considered fair to hear it yourself.

You could arrange for the complaint to be heard by your deputy (however, it is not always appropriate to have a subordinate do this), or you could delegate your authority to hear the grievance to another director or non-executive director the company may have or a business advisor that you either currently use. You could also engage an external business consultant specifically for this purpose. The key is finding someone that can objectively judge whether the complaint should be upheld or not.

Addressing this correctly shows you are taking the matter seriously and that can carry considerable weight with an employee’s confidence in how the matter is being handled.

You will also need to consider a line of appeal should the employee exercise that right. It needs to be someone not previously involved in the decision or at the very least someone that can hear the appeal objectively (and this objectiveness would need to be demonstrable).

An employer’s failure to provide an impartial grievance appeal process can amount to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence and form the basis of a constructive dismissal claim as in Blackburn v Aldi Stores Ltd, where the same manager who heard the grievance hearing also heard the appeal, dismissing the appeal following a 20 minute hearing. The employee resigned and claimed constructive dismissal.

Once you have identified who to appoint to hear the grievance, check out the Acas Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance which will set out the process that they need to follow.

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