10 Top Tips to Investigate a Grievance

Grievance Bullying Jpeg crunched

Having a clear grievance procedure to follow is simple, we’ve written one for you.  (Check out our free downloads) Investigating the grievance properly is the hard part. Over the years we have learnt from our mistakes and developed rules which we’d like to share with you.

  1. If the grievance is not yet formal, consider mediation.

Grievances can be difficult processes for everyone. They are time consuming and the outcome often leaves someone feeling like they’ve lost. Mediation takes 1 day and it is a far more positive process for everyone involved. Mediation is solution focussed and future focussed so all parties are encouraged to think about what happens next rather than focussing on what has happened to them individually. Their grievance becomes a shared issue.

  1. Clarify the specific grievances with the employee.

If you have received a formal grievance go back to the person who has raised the grievance to understand exactly what their grievance(s) is. It may seem obvious, but it’s not uncommon for the real issue to be missed. Ask for dates, times and any witnesses to help you with your investigation. Hold a meeting and clarify in writing what you think the grievance actually is and what you will be investigating. Seek clarification in writing if this is correct and ask at this point if there is anything else? Grievances can develop into much bigger investigations as things are added at the last minute. Give the employee an opportunity to add to their original grievance at the very start of the process. Consider discarding any incidents to be investigated that are over 12 months old as memories fade and investigating fairly is compromised.

  1. What do they want to happen?

Ask, “If your grievance is upheld, what do you want to happen?”. Often people don’t think that far. If their grievance is about a colleague’s behaviour towards them, do they want to continue working with them? By asking this question you provide an opportunity for the individual to think about what reasonable actions the organisation can take e.g. “ I’d like them to receive training on how to communicate better with me”. You may also uncover any unreasonable behaviour or malicious intent from the individual e.g. “I want you to fire them and they apologise to me in front of the whole team”.

  1. Plan before you take any action

Investigations take careful planning to get right. You should consider which witnesses should be interviewed and in what order. Before speaking to anyone, develop your questions with an aim to get the specific information you need, this is easy to get wrong. Don’t ask leading questions or provide too much information into the individual’s grievance.

e.g. If someone raised a grievance that their boss was ‘hostile, aggressive and angry’ towards them in front of others, when interviewing witnesses ask questions like; “What was the atmosphere like in that meeting” “Who said what?” “What happened next?” “Who responded?” “How did the meeting end?” “Did you notice anything unusual?”

  1. Document everything safely (confidentially) and with a date.

This will help you when writing up your investigation report when listing appendices and provides you with a clear timeline as to what happened when. This will also help you with summarising the grievance and retrieving any evidence in the future.

  1. Hold investigation meetings properly

If witnesses speak to their colleagues about the issues, other statements can become tarnished with other people’s views and opinions.   Be firm about gossip and hearsay; be careful of using statements where an individual has heard things about an individual’s behaviour rather than actually witnessing the behaviour themselves.

  1. Signed and Consent

Make sure any witness statements are signed and dated. Before sharing any information, make sure you have consent from the author.

  1. Be firm about confidentiality

When interviewing any witnesses, make sure it’s privately done and they understand that everything discussed must be kept confidential. Make them aware that failure to keep grievance investigation meetings confidential can result in disciplinary action. Explain that gossiping and sharing of information discredits the evidence and an accurate account of what happened becomes difficult to establish.

  1. Note your thoughts but only use facts

As investigating officers, it’s useful to note your perceptions of witnesses behaviours or events but the decision making process must be based on facts or on a balance of probabilities.

  • Everything you do may be seen in a Tribunal so be careful and professional.

Always consider every action you take carefully, if the case goes to a Tribunal, as investigating officer you will be asked about the decisions you made. Be professional and most of all always ask, “Am I being fair and reasonable?”


Jo’s Top Tips for your Employee Handbook

Lego crunched

The success of any organisation is delivered by its employees. Employee’s drive culture, success and most importantly they should all play an essential role in the mission of the organisation. Policies and procedures within a handbook provide a framework in which employees can all succeed; they detail the rights and responsibilities of all who work for and with the organisation.

The purpose of an employee handbook is to provide information on current policies, procedures and benefits and serves as a reference tool in times of need.

Tone of voice and balance

Handbooks are essentially rulebooks so getting the right tone of voice is important. If you are relaxed, flexible employer your handbook should reflect this too. An employee handbook should reinforce your organisations culture not work against it. Having policies and procedures means you should follow them so get the balance right and your employee handbook should work with you, not trip you up!

Make it simple and provide an Advisor

Why make it difficult? It’s not a business document it’s supposed to be an easy guide, so there’s no need to use sophisticated or complicated terms. Use bullet points, give examples and provide step by step guides if you can. Your Head of Digital and Marketing has enough to do with getting their job done and they are not HR experts. Give them an Advisor to call on for those ‘stupid questions’ or someone to act as a sounding wall who understands the policies and procedures inside out. This will save time and any potential, costly mistakes.

Get creative and get your people involved

If you’re a technology company use technology, if you’re a design agency get your people to design avatars around your policies. How to hold an effective appraisal, or how to use the employee intranet.

Include only what you need to

Policies and procedures can be stifling and can give the wrong message. Having a compassionate leave policy isn’t very compassionate. Ask yourself, is this really necessary? We suggest having the bare minimum to begin with, add as and when you need to. If you find you’re having issues with absence or performance management, talk to your people, tell them what you expect and if the issue continues there is a clearer need for a policy.


Just getting your employees to sign to say they have received their handbook is not enough. It’s important that they read, question and understand the guidance. Mandatory training goes alongside certain policies and will protect your business in the future if issues come up.

What is the bare minimum?

If you employ staff you have many legal obligations. The following are areas where you need to be aware of your legal obligations an where we advise you have formal policies and procedures in place:

  1. Equal opportunities including a recruitment Policy
  2. Health and Safety Policy
  3. Disciplinary Policy
  4. Grievance Policy
  5. Sickness Policy
  6. Flexible working arrangements
  7. Family Leave Policies
  8. Data protection policy


Why Mediate rather than Investigate?


What is Mediation and why do HR Rockstars love it so much?

Mediation is a process of conflict resolution where a third party is asked to intervene in a workplace conflict to facilitate a constructive outcome.

Mediators encourage parties to speak their minds, openly, honestly and they are free from judgement, blame or punishment. Respectful communication is exchanged in a safe and confidential environment while parties learn to identify, consider and discuss their needs. Unlike grievance hearings where parties can often feel like they have lost, the outcome to mediation is based on increasing awareness, understanding and empathy of the person they are in conflict with, a ‘win-win’ is completely realistic. Mediation is far less harmful, far quicker and far more effective than formal grievance processes.


Mediation adds value to the organisation as parties learn how to communicate effectively and this infiltrates into their teams, other teams and the wider organisation. Inappropriate behaviours and attitudes are not brushed under the carpet or punished but challenged positively. Teamwork is encouraged while suspicion is reduced as well as gossiping, fear and anxiety. This impacts productivity and presence in the workplace. Parties in conflict establish a basis of mutual respect, understanding and tolerance, all positively impacting the wider organisational culture.


Mediation takes managers out of an often time consuming and difficult process. There is a danger that managers are seen to take sides and further relationships consequently suffer. If grievances are not handled properly, issues are not resolved properly and the conflict remains. A third party Mediator takes the stress away and takes managers out of other’ conflicts, so managers feel better supported by the organisation.

Employees have a greater sense of control in these difficult times. During Mediation, employees have uninterrupted time to tell their story, leaving them feeling heard. Employees are encouraged to speak freely as there is no judgement or blame from the mediator and their employer is completely out of the picture. Mediation is confidential, a resolution is reached, agreed to, but nothing is recorded on any employee files. Employees feel grateful to their employers for acknowledging the conflict and looking to resolve it.


HR Rockstars Top Tips for Appraisals

Shot of two young students going over some notes in a coffee shop

Performance appraisals or performance reviews are a structured, discussion between you and your employee. These discussions allow open and honest feedback on work performance, behaviours, attitude and developmental needs, all in relation to specific goals that you have set.

  1. Link you organisation’s objectives to each individual’s objectives.

There should be a clear link between what your organisation is striving to achieve and what each individual is expected to deliver. By making this clear in the appraisal, your employee will feel more engaged with you’re your organisation and motivated by their work.

  1. Be prepared

Have their job description, attendance records, client/colleague feedback and previous appraisal to hand and then: 

Think back to what your employee has done. How have they performed against their objectives you set? What did they do well, what could they have done differently?

Think about the future. What would you like your employee to achieve in the next few months and how can you help them to achieve their goals?

Think about your employee’s knowledge, skills, behaviour and attitude, how can they be better? Would they benefit from training?

Think about your sector. What is going on that might impact the role of your employee? Discuss how can they be proactive rather than reactive.

  1. Your employee should take the lead in their appraisal.

Let them tell you what they have done, what they hope to do, what they need and how they could be better. If you use a structured appraisal form, let them fill it in before the appraisal meeting.

  1. Conducting the Appraisal
  • Prepare
  • Listen and let them reflect, allow plenty of time
  • Acknowledge and praise achievements
  • Consider any mitigating circumstances or barriers to achieving objectives
  • Discuss attitude and behaviour
  • Identify any training required
  • Agree the next set of objectives specific to organisation objectives
  • Agree timescale
  • Write everything down!
  1. Giving Critical Feedback – Useful tips

The ability to give honest and fair feedback is crucial to this process. See it as a gift to your employee. If giving constructive or critical feedback do it at the time of the event when it is most relevant. Don’t wait for the appraisal.

  • Provide specific examples of poor performance/attitude
  • Ask your employee to share their view on the situation before you share yours.
  • Ask your employee to share their thoughts or feelings on the situation before you share yours
  • Be clear about how the performance/behaviour has impacted the organisation/team
  • Agree a plan to improve performance and provide support
  1. Ask motivating questions such as:
  1. How much do you enjoy your work?
  2. What do you love, what do you hate?
  3. What do you think we can do to make the team better?
  4. How can we make better use of your skills right now?
  5. How can the organisation be better?
  6. What can you and I do better to work more effectively?


Jo’s Top Tips: HR Essentials for SMEs

Jo Lister

It can be daunting for SMEs with no human resources expertise to know where to start when trying to create their own HR structure. A sound structure should be set in place as soon as possible to create and maintain a cooperative and happy workforce and to reduce the risks of workplace disputes, employment litigation and fines.

Here are our HR Essentials:

  1. Have a clear on-boarding process:

It’s crucial at the very start of the employment relationship that things are done right. This includes everything before their first day to the end of their probationary period.

Before they start:

  • Welcome them to the team! Send an offer letter including specific joining instructions
  • Send them their Employment Contract and your Organisation’s Policies and Procedures
  • Make sure you have seen and copied their proof to work in the UK
  • Send them a new starter form to complete.  This will ensure you have all their details and you can pay them
  • Send them all company literature, recent newsletters as well as any organisation/team charts
  • If they’re not starting for a while, keep them engaged! Invite them to any team events, and keep in touch.

When they start:

  • Induction: Meet and Greet, Health and Safety (This is a Legal Requirement)
  • Probation- manage their expectations, what do you want from them? If their work is not good enough tell them. The probationary period is as much for the employee as it is for the employer. Do they fit in?
  1. Policies and Procedures

For any business you MUST have policies and procedures in place specifically:

  • Workplace Health and Safety
  • Anti Discrimination
  • Anti Harassment and Bullying
  • Workplace Surveillance of email and internet

We also suggest you have:

  • Social Media Use
  • Grievance
  • Disciplinary
  • Maternity and Paternity
  • Shared Parental Leave
  • Performance Policy
  1. Disciplinary and Grievance Training for Managers

Having these policies and procedures in place isn’t sufficient enough. It’s important that employees know how to raise a Grievance or report any misconduct properly. Training managers on how to conduct a fair investigation is key to the Grievance or Disciplinary process working properly. We can provide the training, we can also manage the process for you.

Creating an effective HR structure takes a significant amount of time but it is a priority for your business. The benefits of a clear process that you and your people understand, far outweigh the time and effort it takes you or the cost that may be involved in putting one in place.

VW: Wolkswagen Whistleblowing


The Story So Far…

Many of the VW cars sold in the USA were over 40 times the legal limit for diesel emissions. The scandal in this story is that this iconic car manufacturer has seemingly deliberately cheated on their emission tests with the use of software they had installed.  At first we were told it was VW diesel cars that were compromised and now the investigation widens to their petrol cars.  To add more fuel to this scandal, the deception was uncovered by West Virginia University and it’s still not clear whether a whistleblower alerted VW in the first instance and they ignored the disclosure or perhaps they had no idea at all.


We find it hard to believe that a corporation as big as VW did not have robust policies and procedures in place for anti corruption, bribery and whistleblowing and yet this cover up still occurred. Perhaps this suggests that VW employees did not have the confidence to blow the whistle. The VW board have stated they had no knowledge of the scam however there is evidence that a whistleblower tried to raise the alarm back in 2011.

The Consequences

Apart from a minor $6.5 billion cost (so far) to recall and fix the cars, potential fines from the Environment Protection Agency and criminal investigation pending, the reputational damage and loss of trust in VW, the consequence of this scandal have raised serious legal issues. Has VW contravened laws relating to bribery and corruption or failed to encourage people within their organisation to blow the whistle and protect whistleblowers from raising concerns?

What About Your Business?

Can you show that your organisation prevents bribery? Do you have in place “adequate procedures” to prevent bribery? In the UK, corruption and bribery laws are set out in the Bribery Act 2010. Your responsibility as employers is to keep your bribery and corruption policies and procedures under constant review and up-to-date.  It must also commit to providing training on anti-corruption, and your senior management should be dedicated to prevent bribery and fostering a culture in which it is never tolerated. You need a system in place for internal reporting and whistle blowing, which is viewed as safe and confidential, and that any disclosures will be investigated and documented.

We stay glued to this high profile case in hope to find out who really knew.

Do you have a whistleblowing policy?

Are you aware of the employment rights associated with protected disclosures?

Do your staff use whistleblowing to raise a grievance?

If you are at all puzzled, call us for a FREE 30 minute consultation.


Misconduct off the Pitch

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We often hear cases of misconduct outside of the workplace. In recent years the media have photographed employees drunk and disorderly at well-known sporting events like Ascot, Wimbledon and The World Cup. Although these stories are written with humour in mind, what are the consequences for these individuals and their employers? We read the recent report of the alleged racial abuse of a man on the Paris metro by Chelsea Football Club supporters, it got us thinking…If employers don’t tolerate racial abuse, discrimination or other misconduct in the workplace, is it ok to tolerate it outside of the workplace?

What would you do if you were made aware of misconduct of one of your employees outside of the workplace? Ignore it? Dismiss them immediately? Or does it depend on the nature and seriousness of the misconduct?

After the World Cup in 1998, an employee was dismissed after his violent; football related attack in Marseille was reported in the media. The employee was convicted of an armed attack on a police officer and sentenced to 40 days’ imprisonment. The employee put in a claim for unfair dismissal and the tribunal held that his dismissal was unfair. Interestingly the tribunal found that if the violent behaviour had not been reported in the media, the employee would not have lost his job therefore the decision to dismiss was unfair.

This case went to the Court of Appeal and it was held that the behaviour of those involved should be considered first, and that the actions of the employee had brought the company into disrepute. Despite the eventual positive outcome for the employer, considerable time and money was spent defending the employer’s decision to dismiss was fair.

So what should employers do? Consider the following:

  • Stop and review the situation.
  • Don’t just dismiss the employee; this will likely be deemed as an unfair decision having been not considered properly.
  • Speak to us to discuss the incident.
  • Does the misconduct have any bearing on employment?
  • Is this misconduct a one off or does the employee have form?
  • How serious is the misconduct and could the company take any responsibility for any of the circumstances surrounding it (e.g. drunk and disorderly behaviour after an office party where you supplied the alcohol)?


Let us know what you think, be wary of what seems like a clear decision to terminate employment. There is often much more to consider.

Thirsky Work

We stumbled across a video posted by Andy Thirsk celebrating his time working as an Art Director at BD. We were really impressed by this positive exit and the fact that he showcased his amazing time at BD. His entire network of colleagues and friends saw this.

It’s important that when someone does move on, they move on with the memory that you supported their development, you were there for their ups and downs and you contributed to them taking the next step in their career. To have your people exit with such a positive experience is absolutely brilliant for your company reputation. Positive leavers support your company in a number of other ways:

  • Free advertising to back fill their position
  • Free advertising for your business
  • Supports your recruitment strategy
  • Supports retention of current people, (their view of the company being a great place to work will be reinforced).
  • Positive leavers will increase your current people’s performance.

Have you got an exit policy? Call HR Rockstars and let’s see what we can come up with to suit your business culture.   For all my creative, technology clients out there, perhaps we take a leaf out of BD’s book and insist on leavers showcasing their amazing experience working for you. Get their story on your recruitment page!

Andy is now Senior Art Director at Isobar. Lucky Isobar! Check out his experience and let us know what you think.


This was BD from Andy Thirsk on Vimeo.



News just in, the police are now investigating the incident where Clarkson allegedly thumped a producer of the hit show Top Gear. The Police have asked the BBC to provide details of their own investigation. If the BBC have, in their own terms, ‘let Clarkson go’ they should have made that decision based on evidence gathered through an investigation and consequent disciplinary hearing.

If an employee physically assaulted you do you think it’s fair to simply dismiss them?

It is almost always unfair to dismiss an employee without first going through some form of procedure even in cases of obvious gross misconduct.

Here’s a few key points to remember:

• Indicate in your procedure what types of misconduct fall in to the category of ‘gross misconduct’ (thumping your boss would constitute gross misconduct!).

• Establish the facts before taking any action (a short period of suspension with full pay may be required to help establish the facts or to allow some time out to cool down).

• Any period of suspension should be kept under review

• Give the employee reasonable notice in writing of the disciplinary hearing.

• The employee has the right to be accompanied, make this clear in the letter.

• Make it clear to the employee that a possible outcome is dismissal and that NO DECISION HAS BEEN MADE UNTIL AFTER THE HEARING.

Contact your HR Rockstar if you have any questions.
Email- hello@hrrockstars.co.uk or call us on 0844 4145183