Top 10 Ways to Avoid a Grievance or Tribunal Claim

Welcome to this two minute HR Blast. In this Blast, we take a look at how to avoid a formal grievance or tribunal claim. Not always avoidable, we know, but so often little things escalate into big things and big things cost money and time to sort out. And that’s not in anyone’s interests!

If you don’t want to read any further, just know that so often managing people is about employee relations, rather than employment law. Not knowing that is the downfall of many!

Our Top Ten Tips

  1. Give any employee who is upset, frustrated or aggrieved a full opportunity to talk and be actively listened to

Talking and knowing that you are being really listened to is all that most people want. Formal complaints, grievances or legal claims usually arise as a result of people feeling they have not been properly listened to – or given any opportunity to speak.

Not surprisingly, you will fall at the first hurdle if you don’t develop your own, and your managers’ active listening skills. These usually need to be taught, rather than us being born experts.

Another early hurdle you may fall at is if you have no private meetings rooms in your workplace. Not having somewhere private to talk might be cost effective, but it is disastrous when it comes to providing opportunities for staff to air their concerns or grievances.

  1. Educate your managers about employment law, process and procedure so that silly mistakes do not happen during a formal process which may undermine the end result

It takes courage in the modern world to enter into a formal disciplinary process with an employee. Managers often hesitate to even begin the process out of fear of employment law or other repercussions. But so often, if managers are fully prepared and supported – armed with the full facts and with sufficient knowledge of the law – employees will not raise appeals, or bring legal claims, as they will have insufficient grounds to do so.

You, therefore, need to support and educate your managers: develop their knowledge and confidence in the law and its application; and also of the legal and financial consequences of not taking process and procedure seriously.

  1. Remember that seniority doesn’t necessarily make someone either wiser or more informed. Senior leaders need to be as educated, informed and supported as all other managers

When developing managers, don’t forget to develop your senior managers, or let them wriggle and squiggle their way out of attending any development programme. Develop all managers from the top down.

Too often we see just the middle and lower tier managers being developed in respect of employment law, employee relations, managing and motivating staff and effective communication skills. But it’s a mistake to assume that senior managers will have all the skills and wisdom they need to do the job.

If you are in any doubt about this, just take a look around you – both inside and outside your organisation. If anything you might find that in many workplaces senior people have less wisdom and less knowledge, due to less exposure to the day to day issues.

  1. Be consistent with your corporate values. If your values include ‘Integrity’, then behave with integrity. If your values include ‘Innovation’, then be innovative and encourage and reward innovative behaviour

Not surprisingly staff tend to get upset when they feel duped, and the easiest way to upset people is to say you have a set of values and then demonstrate in almost everything you do and say that those values are absolutely irrelevant in the pursuit of profit or business success. No surprises then that this leads to complaints and grievances.

  1. Expect all staff to behave like adults and talk it out

Talk constantly about personal accountability and take active steps to ensure a blame culture does not arise.

We are guessing that 99.9% of your employees are adults, so set out clearly how they should, in the first instance, talk to each other whenever there is a problem rather than immediately head into conflict.  Adult conversation – a hugely innovative way to manage your staff.

In talking, managers should know that playing the ‘blame game’ tends to escalate rather than diminish conflict. Encourage both managers and their staff to avoid leaping straight into who is to blame and instead, seek to find common ground and solutions.

  1. Stop protecting the dinosaurs and those who think they are above the law or indispensable to the organisation

There is no point in putting lots of effort into educating and developing managers if just one or two individuals are allowed to believe all that ‘stuff and nonsense’ doesn’t apply to them. It does. They need to be told that, and learn to deal with it (unless you have so much spare cash floating around that a few extra grievances or tribunals will have no impact on  your bottom line).

  1. Carefully select who will deal with a disgruntled member of staff

Choose peacemakers and confident negotiators, not hot heads. Choose those with high EQ, not those who blast their way through issues. Choose HR professionals over lawyers, who usually prefer to decimate the opposition rather than find a way to resolve the issue.

Winding people up might be an enjoyable sport, but it seldom produces a winning outcome in the workplace. Sending threatening legal letters that seek to overwhelm and incite fear might feel like a positive approach, but it’s anything but positive if that backs your employee into a corner with only one possible course of action – legal action.

It’s not sensible to put your most belligerent bull in charge when an employee is unhappy, instead think about putting your best ‘CHOWPU’ in charge (CHOWPU: the cheetah for its elegance,  grace and confidence, the owl for its wisdom, and the puppy for its softness and ability to break down barriers).

  1. Know that so often all someone wants when they begin a legal dispute is a ‘sorry’. Are you fighting over money, when in fact you should be talking about where things went wrong?

Key skills when you are seeking to avoid formal conflict at work after an error, mistake, accident, etc include: the ability to demonstrate humility; having the confidence and maturity to leave your ego at the door; and having the wisdom to know when all that is required is a heartfelt apology.

Mistakes happen, it’s part of life and it’s definitely part of work, so when they do occur – apologise. It’s not rocket science, it’s humane and it’s an adult way to behave. Plus it’s a pretty good way to avoid a formal grievance being raised!

And if you’re concerned that apologising will jeopardise your defence at a tribunal, if it gets that far? Know that an apology now might cost you a few thousand (or more) at a tribunal, but it will likely save you many thousands more in the legal fees and time spent putting forward a defence (denial) you know is a load of old codswallop.

  1. Every single action you take and every single thing you say should be taken and said in the full knowledge that no one wins from a tribunal, except maybe the lawyers

Take time to make sure that your legal letters demonstrate empathy and understanding; that processes take into consideration personal insecurities and anxieties; and formal meetings are conducted with a view to maintaining an individual’s self-respect rather than clumsily damaging all that is good.

  1. Take time to understand why this employee feels aggrieved, and then use your intelligence to identify ways to reduce that

The problem isn’t always what the employee says is the problem. The real issues aren’t always what are written in the formal appeal. As human beings, we often have a tendency to either not have a clue what is really irking us, or to find something else to blame, in order to avoid having to deal with the really difficult stuff. So take the time to question, probe and actively listen so that you can identify for yourself – and them – what the real issues are.

Then, once you understand the real issues, apply intelligence and common sense in identifying how to proceed. Blundering into a process that never actually gets to address the real issues will, in hindsight, prove to be nothing more than a waste of time and money.

We hope you found this HR Blast useful. If you would value training for your leaders, managers or staff around some of the topics raised in this Blast, here is a selection of some of the training we offer at Jaluch:

Two options for training:

  • Training we deliver for you
  • Training course content, we prepare for you when it’s more cost effective or practical for you to roll out the training.

Courses and course content available:

  • managing discipline and poor performance
  • managing grievances
  • employment law for managers (course content not available)
  • coaching skills for managers
  • motivating, engaging and retaining staff
  • diversity and inclusion
  • appraisal skills for managers
  • developing independent thinking skills

Jaluch is an HR and Training consultancy operating since 2002. We have a strong reputation built on the consistent care and attention we have for our customers and pride in what we do and deliver.

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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