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Dealing with employee grievances on their return to work

By Paul O’Connor

Returning to the workplace after such a long time away affects people differently.

Some will return to work rearing to get back to business. Others may have reservations and be quite anxious. Then there are those who return and immediately begin to disrupt operations.

For instance, an employee may be annoyed about having to return to the workplace and decide to ignore the COVID-19 safety measures you’ve implemented. If that happens, a colleague may raise a grievance and come to you demanding a solution. In that situation, what do you do? Do you let the disgruntled employee get away with it once, or twice? Do you change your mind and allow them to work from home? Or do you discipline them in writing or by way of a formal meeting?

These are important questions, questions our expert employment law consultants hear from employers each day. So, to help you handle grievances when employees return to work, we outline what you can do below.

What constitutes a grievance?

Firstly, let’s define what a grievance is.

The term ‘grievance’ refers to staff concerns, problems, or complaints. It could have something to do with working conditions or the treatment of a particular employee, who is making the complaint, by another.

Now, however, as your employees return to work, a grievance could arise where one employee feels another employee is flouting COIVD-19 measures. Should that happen, you may need to go down the disciplinary route and begin grievance procedures…

Steps of the grievance procedure

Conducting effective and consistent grievance procedures will help resolve employee grievances and ensure you avoid any mistakes that could affect both employees. If you don’t currently have a grievance policy in place, you can refer to the Workplace Relations Commission’s Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures for guidance. Please note that the Code of Practice sets out general guidelines only.

When it comes to carrying out the procedure, try to do it informally, if possible, at first. This removes the need for a more drawn-out formal procedure that demands a lot of attention.

Of course, some complaints aren’t easily resolved by informal means. If that happens, you’ll need to begin formal grievance procedures that require an investigation. An impartial third party must carry this out to ensure there can be no allegations of bias.

Both the employee raising a grievance and any other involved employees have certain rights/entitlements during the grievance process. To that end, a fair grievance procedure should include:

  • The fair examination and processing of the employee’s grievance.
  • The gathering and examination of details related to the allegation or complaint.
  • The opportunity for the employees involved to respond to any such allegation or complaint.
  • The opportunity for the employees involved to avail of the right to representation during the procedure.
  • The explaining and establishment of the right to a fair and impartial determination of the issues concerned.

You may have to notify the employees involved that they’re entitled to have a colleague or union official represent them during the grievance procedure.

The appeal process

If an employee isn’t happy with the outcome of the formal grievance procedure, notify them of their right to appeal in writing.

Arrange for the appeal hearing to be held as soon as possible. Ideally, a senior manager or third party should hear the appeal to demonstrate impartiality.

Make mediation an option

Some grievances between colleagues can prove difficult to resolve. If so, seek external assistance. An external independent mediator can help at any stage in the grievance procedure.

If both parties agree to enter a mediation process, it will allow you to suspend the grievance procedure.

Need our help handling employee grievances?

For advice on handling grievances, speak to an expert Graphite employment law consultant now on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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