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04.11.2020

Dealing with grievances about fellow employees

By Fiona Kelleher

‘Grievance’ is a catchall term in employment law in Ireland that captures staff concerns, problems, or complaints.

While there’s no statutory definition of grievance, a grievance is an employee complaint that is not always a bullying or harassment issue.

If an employee feels that they are treated less favourably, they can seek to file a grievance.

Recently, employers have been in touch for advice on employees who have complained about other colleagues. Most of these have included employees failing to adhere to COVID-19 protocols.

Here, we take a look at some of the key areas to bear in mind when handling these types of complaints.

Check your policy

There is no legal obligation for the employer to have written grievance procedures. However, it is good practice to have a policy or clearly written procedure that employees can rely on if they have a complaint.

If you don’t have a policy in place, you can refer to the Workplace Relations Commission’s Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures for guidance. Do note that the Code of Practice sets out general guidelines only.

The Code of Practice sets out the following requirements:

  • That employee grievances are fairly examined and processed.
  • That details of any allegations or complaints are communicated to the employee concerned.
  • That the employee concerned is allowed to respond fully to any such allegations.
  • That the employee concerned is given the opportunity to avail of the right to have representation.
  • That the employee concerned has the right to a fair and impartial determination of the issues.
  • That an internal appeal mechanism is available.

A grievance process at work typically involves three stages.

  • Receipt of the employee’s complaint.
  • A thorough investigation of the matter.
  • A formal hearing.

The hearing grants the employee an opportunity to discuss their concerns. This is in light of the evidence revealed by the investigation.

See if an informal resolution can resolve the employee grievance

If an employee raises a grievance about a fellow employee, speak to the employee in private first. It may be a situation that can find a resolution without beginning a formal grievance procedure.

If an employee is not adhering to COVID-19 protocols, an informal word with the employee in question may be enough to resolve the situation.

Explain the formal grievance procedure

If the allegation is too serious to resolve informally, organise a follow-up meeting. This should include the employee making the allegation to discuss the situation.

Advise them of the steps in a formal grievance procedure at this point.

If the employee intends to pursue a formal grievance procedure, you should ask the employee to set out the details in writing. The investigation and hearing of the complaint should follow without undue delay.

Explaining the appeal process

If the employee is not satisfied with the outcome of the formal grievance procedure, notify them in writing of their right to appeal.

Arrange the appeal hearing without unreasonable delay. A more senior manager should hear the appeal (or someone who was not involved in the first hearing to demonstrate impartiality).

Consider mediation

If disputes between colleagues prove particularly difficult to resolve, seek external assistance. External independent mediators can help at any stage in the grievance process.

When both parties agree to enter a mediation process, it is possible to suspend the grievance process.

Need our help?

It’s important to ensure that there’s employment equality for everyone within a company. Protection for employees ensures that everyone receives fair treatment.

For further advice on handling grievances, whether it’s handling full-time employees or those returning to work, speak to an expert now on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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