Handling employee investigations – don’t delay

Hey up… it’s time for another complaint… but will you manage to resolve it before the bell rings?

Did you read the case of Goodison v HS2? Whilst Goodison lost her race discrimination claim suggesting that her manager used the term ‘whiter than white’ which she had alleged was discriminatory, the employee did win her constructive unfair dismissal claim. This was on the grounds that the investigation into her grievance ran on for over 9 months, which was an unnecessary length of time.   

Not knowing any of the details of this case, we do of course come across numerous grievance investigations at Jaluch and therefore understand that there can be any number of causes of delays during an investigation. But which of these delays are in the control of the HR team, so can and should be improved upon, and which are out the control of the HR team? Another critical question of course is what should we consider to be an acceptable length of time to conclude an investigation? Let’s explore…

Common causes of investigation delays

1. HR causes

#1 A failure (by manager or HR) to recognise in the first instance that a complaint is in fact a grievance.  

#2 A weak HR team that is disrespected by managers who simply refuse to attend meetings or provide answers to questions asked by HR (rather than a weak HR team, this might of course be down to an arrogant senior team who refuse to allow HR to do their job).

#3 An under-resourced or insufficiently trained HR team that either does not have the resource to investigate promptly or the understanding of how to manage investigations effectively.

2. Operational causes  

#4 A deliberate obstruction on the part of the organisation/functions within the organisation to take complaints seriously.  

#5 A failure of the relevant Director/Trustee/Senior Team to understand the commercial/financial risks of not managing investigations effectively.

3. Complainant causes  

#6 A complainant who raises a complaint and then obstructs all attempts to resolve it.  

#7 A complainant who raises an initial complaint and then proceeds to throw in more and more complaints resulting in timescales endlessly extending.  

#8 A complainant who raises a complaint but then gets ill. 

4. 3rd party causes 

#9 A legal advisor and/or union who prioritise their own needs or interests above that of the complainant and the employer. For example, by throwing in their own additional complaints or red herrings either to increase fee earning or disrupt a fair process.

Regaining control of your time 

1. Training/know the law/understand the consequences

Whether it’s eLearning, webinars, one- hour ‘lunch and learns’ or a full 6 hours of comprehensive training, with complaints coming through to businesses thick and fast this year, you need to know what to do, how to do it and what your risks are if you don’t get it right or choose to do nothing at all.  

You also need to know when you’re being strung along by a 3rd party feeding you false or misleading information. Early resolution of conflict is ALWAYS to the benefit of the organisation – and employee. And no, this does not mean you just pay everyone off, but that you have the skills to hear, understand and resolve or diffuse conflict.

2. Assertiveness

Now is not the time for HR to be under-assertive. However, we all need to combine assertiveness with emotional intelligence otherwise we may inadvertently escalate the conflict. Your management of people, of time, of complainants, of witnesses etc all needs to be assertive – no room for wishy washy and lacking in authority when dealing with complaints that could end up in the employment tribunal. Perhaps some of the following will give you ideas…. 

…if you can’t attend this meeting, then it will go ahead in your absence, however we’re happy for you to submit written representations. 

…if you (eg a manager) refuse to attend this meeting then we will inform you of the conclusions we’ve had to draw from that and who we will be notifying of your refusal to co-operate with this investigation.

…if you are still too ill to attend this grievance hearing following your complaint, then please accept our sympathies for your ill health, but we will need you to call us by x date so that we can agree alternative arrangements with you so that the grievance can be heard and resolved promptly, as is essential for all parties.

…as you have already raised a grievance, your new complaint will be considered at the same time rather than a new grievance investigation opened up 

……please refrain from posting anything inappropriate or unprofessional on your social media at this time pending the conclusion of our investigation and we would remind your of your contract ref. not doing anything that will bring the name of this company into disrepute as this would be considered to be an act of misconduct, and potentially gross misconduct 

(Please note these are all just ideas and advice should always be taken if you are uncertain as to how to phrase letters or what the law allows) 

3. Fantastic organisation and time management

It’s critical that time is managed from the outset when managing grievances. Include diary notifications to ensure you are alerted if time begins to drag or get extended.  

First decide how long your investigation will last and what might be considered too long. Your policy may set out clear guidance on this so check that first. Our recommendation is to address grievances where possible within 6 weeks, kicking off the initial process within 5 days of receipt of the grievance. (ACAS best practise is for initial meetings to be convened within 5 days).

If time extends beyond 6 weeks, ensure all parties understand why that has happened and what likely timescales are.  

If you think it’s going to go beyond 3 months, then ask what is your justification for that. We can seldom understand why grievances can’t be progressed more swiftly if they are properly managed and organised, with time expectations set from the outset with all parties. Delays create unnecessary stress for everyone – not just the complainant. They also create bad internal PR and sometimes lead to damaging external PR – resolve issues quickly to minimise damage.  

Time can be saved by not producing verbatim minutes. These are not necessary in many situations. Use audio recordings (and share with all parties) to save time and note taking resource (other than where it is sensible to have a 3rd party in the room.)  

As appropriate, book grievance hearings for 60 minutes or perhaps 120 minutes. You don’t need to allow an individual as long as they want to work through all their complaints from the past 10 years. Time limiting the meeting and providing guidance on how time can be best used during the meeting is a great way to manage your grievance investigation time.  

Is there value in redrafting paperwork?

If your current complaints/grievance policy is proving inadequate, then it’s time to rewrite to include different standards, expectations, guidelines etc. to help everyone understand how issues will be fairly and effectively managed. Remember that ACAS advises you attempt to resolve matters informally to avoid a lengthy process, so don’t forget this stage.

Jaluch can help you draft new or redraft your paperwork, or if this is something you’d prefer to handle yourself, take a look at Docs Wizard. You can download legally compliant policies and 100s of other HR documents for a low annual subscription fee. We also offer a white-labelling service if you would like to purchase to use the website for your business. Contact us to talk about either option.

Time to be more assertive

Where meetings have been delayed by more than two weeks or more than twice, it’s usually time to get assertive and say meetings will ‘go ahead in your absence’ (complainant or witness) if you fail to agree a suitable date/fail to turn up the next time. This needs to be actively managed.

If complainants are slowing things down by refusing to sign off minutes, arguing all the little details or failing to show up at meetings, think about ways to stop boxing yourself in. For example, don’t say ’please sign to indicate your approval of these minutes’, instead say ‘please sign to indicate your acceptance of these minutes produced by the company. Please complete the section at the bottom to indicate any points you do not agree have been recorded accurately. If notes have not been signed and returned with comments within 5 days they will be deemed to have been accepted. This is essential for us to be able to progress your complaint investigation in a timely manner.’ Never send out something for signature that you know many will fail to sign if they can get away with it. Put yourself in their shoes and remove some of the blockers to progress through an investigation.  

KISS. Keep it simple

Check your grievance policy does not represent a super-powered, super-charged, bullet-vested version of the ACAS recommended policy. An overenthusiastic process and procedure person who perhaps wrote your 5-chapter policy, masquerading as a hefty tome, is probably not the person who has to then deal with the consequences of their actions! Stick with simple. Stick to ACAS guidelines which are pretty straight forward and seldom create the straight jacket of a super-duper high brow policy that might make you look posh but all too often ends up making you look ineffective creating a process with 300 steps in it is simply not necessary. Stating exactly who will hear grievances just boxes you in, keep it simple by saying it will be someone more senior than you, where possible. Keep everything simple to allow yourself room to manage each situation as it arises.  

So which will be your priority? Training, building assertiveness or focussing in on great time management and organisation?

And finally…

We know, we know – it’s easy for us to sit at Jaluch and dish out great advice but rest assured, we are in the mire of it with you. When one of your employees fails to turn up yet again to their investigation meeting, we feel it just as much as you. Understanding and feeling the people issues is what we do, all whilst considering the legal requirements, so we don’t just dole out legal advice then go home and have a cup of tea! 

We don’t want you accruing hundreds of hours to manage one grievance, or getting stressed because an employee is making it so personal, or for you to lose credibility with others as they think you have lost control of the situation. We’re with you and it has been our mission for over 20 years to help you resolve HR issues as quickly and smoothly as possible. Common sense, finding the logic, practical, pragmatic advice and support is what we pride ourselves on.  

Oh and if you want our advice… confidence comes out of competence, so focus on the education/training piece first to build competence and then, with a sold bank of knowledge behind you and your HR team, you can begin to build the confidence to manage people complaints more assertively and more effectively.  

If you need our support, get in touch with the team.

Find our more …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top