Getting to grips with the causes of work disputes

The recent HR Benchmarker mini survey asked participants to list the three most common causes of disciplinary and grievance cases and the three most common types of employment tribunal application brought against their organisation.


A massive 80% of participants in the survey cited poor attendance and absence as the most common cause of disciplinary proceedings being brought against employees. Following some way behind was poor performance (47%), then general misconduct (37%), poor timekeeping (26%), fraud and theft (17%), and aggressive behaviour/insubordination (13%). Other less frequently cited causes included breach of regulations (for example, health and safety), misuse of equipment (for example, e-mail and the internet), failure to follow procedures, and substance misuse.


The most common subject matter of grievances was harassment and bullying, with 45% of participants having this at the top of their list. Bullying and harassment were a big problem in many workplaces and employers must continue to try to tackle them.

Acas has drafted revisions to its advice leaflets on bullying and harassment to reflect the proposed changes to the law set out in the Employment Equality (Sex Discrimination) Regulations 2005. These regulations, which provide a definition of sexual harassment to bring it in line with other discrimination legislation, come into force on 1 October this year, which is when the revised guidance becomes effective.

Other common causes of grievances were line manager relations (36%), pay-related reasons (27%), hours of work (including rotas and shifts) (18%), and terms and conditions (14%). Less frequently cited causes included job evaluation and relationships with colleagues. Employers, of course, must ensure that they now follow the statutory grievance procedure when dealing with employee grievances and must take them seriously and deal with them promptly.


The most common employment tribunal claim was unfair dismissal, with 91% of participants listing this. This finding accords with the key statistics published in the Employment Tribunal Service (ETS) Annual Report for April 2004 to March 2005 which cited unfair dismissal as the most commonly registered claim in the period – 39,727 unfair dismissal claims were brought, down from 46,370 the previous year.

According to the ETS report, tribunal claims are down 25% in general from the previous year. It has been speculated that this may be due to the introduction in October last year of the statutory dispute resolution procedures.

The next most common types of claim, listed by 34% of participants in the survey, were discrimination claims. Other types of claim cited were equal pay issues and part-time pension claims. Cases relating to the rights of part-time workers and, in particular, access to pension schemes have accounted for a huge number of claims in the past few years.

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