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