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Grievance procedures

All employers must have a proper grievance procedure in place. Legal requirements aside, it is to the advantage of both employer and employee to have a procedure in place that the employee feels comfortable using so that grievances can be aired and hopefully resolved before they develop into more serious issues.

A good grievance procedure can help to avoid formal disputes and the need for litigation. A typical grievance procedure will involve three stages. The first will be an informal discussion. If this does not resolve the matter, the second stage will be a written grievance with a hearing to consider all the evidence. The third stage will be a right of appeal (with an appeal hearing) if the employee is not satisfied with the outcome of the grievance.

Grievances must be put in writing if they are not resolved informally and minutes should be kept of all meetings, copies of which should be supplied to the employee. Employees have the right to be accompanied to grievance hearings by a colleague or trade union representative.

Disciplinary and capability procedures

It is similarly essential for employers to have in place a written procedure which clearly explains to the employee the steps which will be followed if a disciplinary/performance issue arises and the likely consequences of particular types of misconduct/unsatisfactory performance.

There will be different stages of the procedure starting with a verbal warning for a first minor offence, progressing to a written warning for further misconduct/unsatisfactory performance and then to a final written warning and finally to the ultimate sanction of dismissal. The employer may need to jump stages depending on how serious the offence is. It might, for example, be appropriate to issue a final written warning for a serious first offence. The procedure will also explain the employer’s right to summarily dismiss an employee for gross misconduct or gross negligence without going through the normal stages of verbal and written warnings.

There should always be a hearing before any disciplinary action is taken against an employee with a letter being sent to the employee first. The letter will explain why there is to be a hearing and the possible outcome. The employee must know in advance what issues are being raised so that there is time to prepare a response. As with a grievance hearing, the employee has the right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative. The disciplinary/capability procedure must provide for a right of appeal against disciplinary action. The employee must be given a letter after the initial hearing explaining the decision and the right of appeal. If the employee wishes to appeal, then he or she must be invited to an appeal hearing and there will again be a right to be accompanied to the hearing by a colleague or a trade union representative.

In cases of unsatisfactory performance, employers also need to consider how performance can be improved through training or other assistance with time scales being set for achieving an improvement.

The need for a fair and structured dismissal procedure applies to a dismissal for any reason and not just to dismissals for a reason related to conduct or capability. Special statutory provisions for consultation will apply in the case of collective redundancy dismissals.

An employer contemplating a dismissal would be well advised to take advice before implementing the dismissal process.

If you are an employer who does not have a grievance or disciplinary/capability procedure or dismissal procedure in place or if you would like an existing procedure reviewed, please call us for further information.

Grievance Proceedures


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