Weekly dilemma: Vexatious employees

One of our employees is always complaining. We have held three grievance meetings already this year, and he has appealed each one.

Considerable management time is being taken up dealing with his complaints, most of which have been found to be without substance. He has now e-mailed more complaints. Do we have to deal with them?

If an employee raises a written grievance, and the employer fails to follow the statutory grievance procedure and the employee subsequently brings a tribunal claim, then the tribunal can increase any compensation awarded to the employee by between 10% and 50%.

A failure to deal with the latest complaints could risk increased tribunal compensation. However, like all risks, this should be analysed, assessed and managed. Consider the following:

  • Speak to the employee to see whether informal resolution is possible.
  • What is the likelihood of the complaints result-ing in successful tribunal claims? The compensation rise only applies if liability is established.
  • Are the complaints merely a rehash of the previous grievances? If so, there is no obligation to deal with them again.
  • What will it cost in management time, staff morale and legal fees to deal with the complaints?

Grievance procedures provide a necessary and valuable tool for resolving problems at work. However, a minority will abuse the system. The default presumption should always be that the grievance procedure will be followed, but a risk analysis may be necessary where an employee is becoming vexatious. If you decide not to deal with the complaints, it would be sensible to say this to the employee, and invite comments before making a decision.

The two ultimate sanctions for vexatious staff are disciplinary action for raising unfounded complaints, or dismissal for a complete breakdown in the employment relationship. These sanctions might be risky but, given the way that a vexatious employee can poison the working environment, they are possibly a risk worth taking.

By Neil Johnston, solicitor, employment law group, Field Fisher Waterhouse

Each week we ask the experts to answer your legal dilemmas. If you have a legal question or dilemma, e-mail [email protected]

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