Most employers have little problem complying with the letter of the law on employee grievances, according to research by Personnel Today’s sister publication, Employment Review.
A survey of 147 organisations with written grievance policies found that at least eight out of 10 complied fully with an Acas code of practice setting out how employers should operate the statutory dispute procedures introduced in October 2004.
Nearly all (97%) allowed a right of appeal after management made an initial decision about a grievance, 81% have at least three stages in their grievance procedure, and 78% set time limits by which each stage in the process should be completed.
The statutory procedures have been strongly criticised since they were introduced, and the government has said that it will repeal the legislation.
Under the current procedures, employees have a right to be accompanied by a trade union official or a colleague at grievance hearings.
According to the survey, workers exercise this right in all or most grievance hearings at two-thirds (67%) of organisations, and in a minority of meetings at a further one in five (19%). Employees were never represented in 14% of organisations.
The 147 employers that took part in the survey together employ 287,644 people. Over the past year, they dealt with a total of 3,773 grievances.
Work relationships are focus of disputes…
Employees are most likely to raise a grievance about the state of their relationship with their line manager or another colleague, the Employment Review survey shows.
Nearly one in five employers (19%) said they frequently had to deal with grievances about the line manager relationship, with a further six in 10 (61%) saying the issue was raised less often.
Grievances caused by relationships with colleagues were raised frequently at 16% of organisations, and occasionally at a further 60%.
Although bullying and harassment were a frequent cause of grievances at fewer organisations (9%), they were raised less frequently at a further 73%. Just 18% of employers said the issue never came up in grievances.
The survey reveals that discrimination is seldom a frequent cause of grievances. Race discrimination (35%) and sex discrimination (32%) grievances are occasionally raised in rather more organisations, but complaints about other forms of discrimination are rare.
Although on most measures there was little difference over the grievances raised at union and non-union companies, complaints about relationships with colleagues and managers and about bullying were twice as likely to be raised frequently in unionised workplaces.
…and many of these end in tribunal claims
More than one in three organisations taking part in the survey (37%) said that an unresolved grievance had resulted in an employment tribunal claim within the previous two years.
But just one in four (28%) said that their procedures allowed for the involvement of a third party such as arbitration and conciliation service Acas, which might have averted a claim being made.
One in four (26%) also said they had changed their HR practices or procedures as a result of the outcome of a recent grievance case.