Are the new grievance procedures working?

The mandatory disciplinary and grievance procedures for employers and employees were introduced six months ago. The aim was to set in stone guidelines for disciplining employees and complaining about employers. But, asks James Elwes, have the procedures worked?

According to Paul Lambdin, an employment partner at law firm Stevens & Bolton, they have not. “The government’s statutory disciplinary and grievance procedures are having the opposite effect to that intended – to resolve disputes in an informal way.”

He said this legislation has not only made disputes more time-consuming but also more legally demanding. An added layer of complexity has discouraged employees from bringing claims against employers, and has also led to a snowballing effect that involves, he said, “the statutory procedures themselves giving rise to fresh disputes, and grievances about grievances”.

He maintained that the new practices have created a more contentious and hostile workplace, in turn leading to heated arguments between lawyers and HR departments.

Though a new complication, have these procedures shown any positive results at all? According to Lambdin, they have not. He said, “We are unaware of a single dispute being resolved through these procedures.”

In a survey of its members carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 40% felt the new guidelines would ease the burden on employment tribunals.

An in-depth CIPD report on the new legislation is set for release in June.

Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at CIPD, said: “The important thing is that you have managers who can resolve disputes even before they get to the grievance and disciplinary procedure.”

This is complicated by some managers being uncertain what they are and are not permitted to say to employees during proceedings.

“Managers have to ask some fairly sensitive questions. They need to know what they can and can’t ask,” Willmott said.

However, it is important to encourage as much dialogue between employee and employer as possible. A statement by the Department of Trade and Industry said: “The regulations promote better communication in the workplace and encourage people to talk through disputes when and where they occur.”

The department said the new regulations mean “using employment tribunals as a back-up rather than a first port of call”.

The procedures will be subject to review in 2006.

So what exactly do these proceedings involve?

  1. An employee involved in disciplinary proceedings will receive a letter outlining the problem, and providing information concerning the complaint

  2. The employer holds a meeting with employee

  3. The employer makes a decision

  4. The employee could appeal the decision.

If this procedure is not followed, then any dismissal will be counted as unfair, which in turn may lead to increases in compensation for the employee, sometimes by as much as 50%

Similarly, an employee grievance must be handled according to new guidelines. A claim must be brought within 28 days, which allows for compromise before the need for a tribunal. Employers must also provide the employee with a statement of employment particulars, or else an employment tribunal can automatically award two or four weeks’ salary.

Companies that have not introduced these procedures risk negative decisions from tribunals as well a heavy pay-outs.

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