Grievances in the disciplinary procedure – a HR minefield?

The disciplinary process can be complicated at the best of times, but add in an employee grievance with little legislation to help and it can leave everyone walking on egg shells trying to reach a solution.

Grievances can manifest in many different forms during the disciplinary process, such as allegations of unfairness about the disciplinary itself or about the circumstances leading up the process being initiated. Each situation is different and with minimal information and legislation, it can be a minefield to navigate. After the repeal of the statutory dispute resolution procedures (2009), handling a situation such as this essentially became reliant of the contract of employment so a strong set of policies and procedures can be a huge time saver.

As an employer, it’s only natural to have doubts about the validity of a grievance claim put in during a disciplinary, as it can be used by the claimant to delay a potentially negative outcome, but the circumstances are not always so open and close. Even though it can complicate the process, employees are not always trying to find a ‘get out of jail free card’ by reporting a grievance during the disciplinary. There are many reasons that could contribute to the delay, such as the employee feeling uncomfortable, being unaware of the reporting process, or even not understanding what a grievance consists of.

Because of this, it is vital to investigate any claims thoroughly and fairly, not doing so could potentially risk further problems for the business with accusations of unfair dismissals or discrimination. Though it might be easy to be cynical or view the grievance as nothing more than self-preservation, every employee has a right to be given the benefit of the doubt.

There isn’t a legal requirement to suspend the disciplinary to investigate a claim of grievance, but a business should consider the circumstance in each case and contemplate the potential impact of running the two concurrently. For example, if the issue raised by the employee is so serious it outweighs the disciplinary, then it would be best to investigate the grievance first, especially if said grievance will affect the necessity or outcome of the disciplinary itself.

There isn’t any one way of handing a grievance raised during a disciplinary and this can make it an uncertain and complicated time for any business. To ensure it is handled correctly and with minimum impact, it’s always best to refer to procedural policies and seek the help of a HR professional if you are still uncertain.

Above all, the key is to always be fair and impartial. 

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