Handling problems at work

Something not quite right?

A recent study by Warwick University’s Centre for Competitive Advantage has shown that a happy work environment is a more productive one, where the relationship between employer, management and workers is finely balanced and managed with reciprocal respect and discipline. When that relationship, or the necessary communication, breaks down, grievances can occur. These grievances may lead to informal discussions, grievance hearings or disciplinary hearings leading to disciplinary action.

Let’s talk about it

Effective and efficient communication is vital in order for a company to prosper. When dealing with a grievance, informal action is preferable as a first recourse as it may be possible to resolve the grievance by way of a relaxed discussion. After an informal discussion, records should be kept in order that policies may be amended to reflect any changes as a result of the discussion. Any such changes to policy should be clearly communicated to the workforce. If the grievance cannot be resolved informally it becomes necessary to resort to formal grievance procedures.

Formal Grievance and Disciplinary hearings

Some grievances from employer or employee are of a more serious nature which cannot be resolved by a friendly chat. These grievances need to be dealt with in a prescriptive, formal manner which involves the following:

  • Establish the facts
  • Notify the employee in writing
  • Permit the employee to be accompanied
  • Hold a meeting and take accurate minutes of the meeting
  • Decide on appropriate action

What’s the next step?

Outcomes of formal meetings can take several forms and will vary according to the circumstances of the individual case. In all cases the employee must be notified of the decision in writing.  In circumstances where it is necessary to invole disciplinary proceedings, the outcomes of formal disciplinary hearings are:

  • No penalty and no further action
  • Written improvement notice
  • First written warning
  • Final written warning
  • Dismissal or other formal sanction

The Right to be Accompanied

Employees have the right to be accompanied in certain formal meetings at work including disciplinary and grievance hearings . With its source in the Employee Relations Act, the right to be accompanied is written into the Acas Code of Practice [PDF]. Tribunals are legally required to take the Code into consideration when deciding on cases. New clarification, relating specifically to the right to be accompanied, was recently added into the Code.

For the unreasonable failure of an employer to comply with the provisions of the code, a tribunal has the power to uplift any compensation award by up to 25%. Similarly, if an employee unreasonably fails to comply with the provisions of the code, a tribunal can reduce an award by up to 25%.

Get it in writing

After an outcome has been decided and communicated to the employee, the employee has the right to appeal the decision. One of the grounds for an appeal could be that the minutes of the disciplinary hearing do not accurately reflect the actual hearing. It is vital that the minute-taker gets it right. The minute-taker can request pauses in discussions in order catch up with their writing. Pauses such as this can also be useful tool to defuse the atmosphere in a room.

Sign here

After a hearing, a copy of the minutes should be presented to the employee to get the employee’s signed confirmation that the minutes are an accurate reflection of the discussion. Obtaining confirmation of accuracy removes one of the avenues of appeal and could save time for all involved.

If you’d like some assistance navigating the minefield that is grievance and disciplinary procedure, we’d like to hear from you. Please feel free to contact us at your convenience.

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