Guidance to accompany the Grievance Policy

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1 Guidance to accompany the Grievance Policy CONTENTS PAGE 1. Introduction 1 2. What is a grievance 1 3. Scope 2 4. Reasonable Adjustments 2 5. What can an employee expect? 2 6. The informal stage 3 7. Putting the Grievance in writing 3 8. The role of the Companion 4 9. Note taking The formal grievance meeting The investigation process Outcomes The Appeal meeting Working relationships Collective grievances Post-employment grievances 9 1. Introduction These Guidance notes support the Grievance Policy and have been put together in line with the ACAS Code of Practice. The notes provide supplementary information, for both line managers and Employees, to the main Policy. These Guidelines will be periodically updated and renewed; any changes will be agreed with Unison and communicated widely. 2. What is a grievance? A grievance is an event or occurrence about which an employee feels concerned. It is something which they want to raise with a senior manager, in order to have it resolved. A grievance is different from, for example, an employee letting off steam about something they do not like, because a grievance is something for which the employee is seeking an outcome. In order for the County Council to recognise an employee s concern as a grievance, and therefore respond, it is helpful if the concern is put in writing. However, a grievance may come in different formats, such as a letter, and will not necessarily have a heading grievance. Managers, acting informally or as Grievance Officers, need to understand the nature of the employee s concerns and will want to ask the employee what outcome they are seeking. If an employee does not want anything - 1

2 done, they just want to have their views heard, then Managers may suggest that the issue is dealt with outside of the grievance procedure, with the employee s agreement. 3. Scope In general, a Grievance should be about an event in the recent past, usually within the previous three months, and not about an event which happened a long time ago. If the employee wishes to call on a chain of events, dating back in time but which continue until the recent past, then it is suitable to refer to events from further in the past. The Grievance policy should not be used to raise issues that either have been discussed, or can be discussed, under the appeal process of another formal procedure (for example, an employee cannot raise a Grievance about a disciplinary sanction; they should use the disciplinary appeal process instead). 4. Reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities If an employee notifies their line manager that they may require adjustments, the manager should seek advice, either from the Intranet (see the Employers Forum on Disability Guides) or from the HR Professional Support Team on how best to meet the requirements of the employee or their Companion. Examples of reasonable adjustments might include: Providing documentation in large type Ensuring wheelchair access at meetings. 5. What can an employee reasonably expect? To have the matter taken seriously and investigated To be asked how the matter can be resolved. Management time and resources to be given to looking into the concerns they raise. To be treated professionally, and the details of their grievance to be kept confidential. A response or outcome to the issues they raised - 2

3 6. The Informal stage In all but the most serious of Grievances, it is strongly encouraged that employees raise a Grievance informally first. Raising an informal Grievance does not mean that it is not important, rather that an open, honest dialogue may be an easy and appropriate route to solve a concern before it escalates further. During an informal grievance meeting, the Manager needs to consider: - Whether there have been any misunderstandings that can be easily resolved? - Whether the outcome sought by the employee is reasonable/ achievable. - If the desired outcome(s) is not achievable, what alternatives can be put forward? - Whether to speak with any other employees, in order to resolve the issue. Role of the Companion at an informal meeting: Raising issues can be a daunting experience for the employee, and for this reason, they may bring a Companion with them, to act in a supportive role. This is not designed to turn the meeting into a more formal matter, but rather to provide the employee with every opportunity to feel confident and supported in explaining their concerns. The role of the Companion at this meeting is to provide support, to debrief the employee, and to help them understand what was agreed. 7. Putting the Grievance in writing If the informal stage has been exhausted, the employee may choose to raise the grievance formally. The first stage is to put it in writing. Putting a grievance in writing can be difficult, especially for those who find it difficult to express themselves in writing. The Grievance form may make this simpler for some people. Employees should be encouraged to seek help from a Trade Union representative or colleague. The Grievance will be judged on the facts of the matter, and not on the quality of the written document. A written Grievance should cover the following areas: A brief description of the events that took place, including the people involved and the dates and timescales. An account of how the events have made the employee feel. What actions has the employee taken to resolve this grievance so far? What outcomes is the employee hoping for? - 3

4 It is very helpful for the Grievance Officer if they have an understanding of what outcome the employee is seeking. The grievance form contains questions about outcomes to help employees think about this. However, employees should be aware that they will not be told if another employee is subject to a disciplinary, and there are no guarantees that the desired outcome will be achievable. There is no financial recompense as a Grievance outcome. 8. The role of the Companion at formal meetings The role of the Companion at all formal meetings under the Grievance Procedure is to support the employee. They are allowed to: Address the meeting in order to present the employee s case Respond on the employee s behalf to any view expressed at the meeting Confer with the employee during the meeting Ask questions of witnesses Sum up the employee s case However, they are not allowed to: Answer questions on behalf of the employee Address the hearing if the employee does not want them to, or Prevent the employee from explaining their case. 9. Note taking It is very important that notes are kept of every meeting under the formal procedure. The Grievance Officer / Appeal Chairperson may take the notes, or they may arrange for a specialist note taker to be present. If a note taker is to be present, the employee should be informed before the meeting begins, and the Grievance Officer / Appeal Chair may like to spend a few moments before the meeting with the Note taker, to ensure that they are familiar with the terminology and names which may be mentioned, during the course of the meeting. It is very important that the note taker remains in the room during the adjournment to record the rationale for any outcomes. The notes should be shared with the employee after the meetings, for their information. - 4

5 The notes must be kept on file, in accordance with the County Council retention schedule. 10. The (formal) Grievance Meeting A grievance meeting needs to be handled with sensitivity, with a view to resolution. The Grievance Officer can establish this tone through the use of calm dialogue and open questions. It can be helpful to allow the employee to have the time to air their views freely as the employee may feel nervous and have spent time preparing for this opportunity. The meeting will open with introductions, confirmation of the names of witnesses, and confirmation of the documents to be considered during the meeting. If there are additional documents to be added, or discrepancies, the meeting will be adjourned to enable the documents to be copied and read. The Grievance Officer will explain the purpose of the meeting and ask the employee to state clearly what their Grievance is, and also what outcome they are seeking. The employee is encouraged to speak freely and to use the opportunity to express their concerns, ensuring that all factual information is given, confirmed by documents, if necessary. The Grievance Officer, having heard the employee s views, can ask questions of the employee, and may need to consider an adjournment to investigate certain facts. As with other formal meetings, anyone can ask for an adjournment during the meeting, and, providing there is broad agreement, the Grievance Officer of the meeting will agree. The Grievance Officer will offer the employee (or their Companion) the opportunity to sum up their main points. The Grievance Officer will need to adjourn to deliberate and consider the outcome. The Grievance Officer should put care and thought into resolving the employee s concerns. Notes should be kept of the deliberation process, so that they can act as a record of the thinking process and can be used to inform the outcome letter to the employee. If there is a note taker present, they should record the deliberations, but not take any active part in the discussions. - 5

6 11. Guidance on the Investigation process Role of the Investigation Officer The role of the Investigation Officer is to investigate the allegations raised by the employee. This includes interviewing witnesses and writing an investigation report. There is an Investigating Officers pack available on the Intranet and there is online training available for those asked to carry out an investigation. One of the key responsibilities of the Investigation Officer is to agree the key milestones in the investigation with the employee, and then to keep them informed of progress while the investigation is continuing. Investigations where one employee has accused another of a breach of conduct In some grievances, the employee (raising the grievance) makes allegations against another employee, potentially either a colleague or a member of management. In these situations, the Investigation Officer should meet with the employee named in the Grievance and explain the allegations to them. The Investigation Officer will need to consider what information to share with this employee to enable them to prepare for their investigation interview. This employee (who has been named in the grievance) will be given a few days in which to prepare themselves before their investigation interview. They will need to keep the content of the grievance confidential, which includes managing the working relationship with the employee who has raised the grievance. In some cases, the employee (who has been named in the grievance) may be invited to bring a companion to the investigation meeting, if there is a reasonable chance that they may face a disciplinary meeting over the allegations at some stage in the future. Investigating Officers should contact HR Professional Support at this stage for advice. 12. The Grievance Outcomes The panel must find in relation to each of the employee s points. The available outcomes for each point are: uphold or reject. This will be recorded in the outcome letter. Overall outcome: The employee will be told an overall outcome of their grievance. The grievance may have been upheld fully, rejected, or, where some of the points have been upheld and others rejected, the overall outcome would be a partial uphold. - 6

7 Partial uphold: This outcome is used where the Grievance or Appeal panel find that they uphold some of the employee s points but not others. The overall outcome, therefore, is mixed. This outcome should not be used where the Grievance Officer or Appeal panel cannot reach a decision. In addition, the employee should be given an explanation about the reasons why the Grievance officer /Appeal Manager has reached this conclusion. It may be possible for the Grievance Officer to share with the employee any general recommendations or suggestions which they make in response to the Grievance, so long as these do not breach any individual employee s confidentiality. However, it will not be possible for the Line Manager / Grievance officer to share with the employee any actions that they will be taking in regard to a specific employee. It will not be possible, for example, to tell the employee who raised the grievance if another member of staff is being disciplined as a result of the grievance outcome, in order to protect this employee s right to confidentiality. 13. The Appeal Meeting If the employee decides to appeal the outcome from the Grievance meeting, an Appeal meeting will be called. The Appeal Chairperson will open the meeting by welcoming the attendees, and making introductions. The Appeal Chair should also confirm which documents are to be used in the meeting. If there are additional documents to be added, or discrepancies, the meeting will be adjourned to enable the documents to be copied and read. The employee may bring a Companion to the meeting. The Chair will ask the employee to explain their reason for appeal they may do this in person or ask their Companion to assist them. The employee cannot introduce new grounds for raising a Grievance. Witnesses at the Appeal meeting: The employee may invite witnesses to the meeting, having provided prior notice to the Chairperson, who will be asked questions by the employee, and then the Appeal chairperson (and other Panel members, if applicable). The Chairperson of the Appeal may choose to invite the Grievance Officer (or whoever heard the Stage One meeting) to the Appeal, as a witness, in order to understand the rationale for their decision. - 7

8 When the Chairperson has heard all the information in respect of the Appeal, and the rationale for the original decision, the Chair will invite the employee to sum up their reasons, before adjourning. During the adjournment, the Appeal chair will consider all the information that they have heard and reach a balanced decision. 14. Working relationships During a grievance process, the parties involved sometimes become very focused on events which have happened. It can be difficult to think about a future state where relationships are more positive or where issues have been resolved. This can make the working environment difficult. Despite genuine attempts at resolution, positions can become entrenched, and employees and witnesses may feel awkward working together. It is helpful if everyone involved can keep a sense of the need for working relationships, both throughout the grievance, and once it has been concluded. Some options which can help with this process are: Mediation: Mediation can be a helpful tool in enabling parties to work together successfully. External mediation services can be arranged through the employee Counselling Service, Health Assured. There is often no cost for this service, although all the parties must be prepared to try it. The HR Professional Support team can discuss how meditation can help. A facilitated internal Resolution Meeting: These can be helpful where working relationships have broken down. The purpose of which is to agree how the involved parties are to work together in the future. As with formal mediation, the HR Professional Support Team on Collective Grievances The process for Grievances raised by multiple employees mirrors that for individual employees. All of the stages should be followed, including the informal stage, which can be used effectively in collective grievances. It may be possible for each employee to speak at the Grievance meeting, or it may be more practical for the employees to appoint a spokesperson. Similarly, employees may find it more practical to select one person to act as their Companion, or Representative, at meetings. In collective grievances, and depending on their complexity, it is to be expected that the timescales may be longer than for individual grievances. All the parties should agree the revised timescales at the beginning of the procedure, and a commitment made to adhere to them. - 8

9 In resolving collective grievances, particular consideration should be given to options such as mediation. In addition to the collective grievance procedure, there are a range of other formal and informal forums to resolve collective issues between UNISON, on behalf of groups of employees, and WSCC. Please see a UNISON representative for more information. 16. Post-employment Grievances Within 7 calendar days of receiving the grievance in writing, the Head of Service will appoint a Senior Manager to investigate the grievance and Chair a Grievance Meeting. If the employee agrees, the Grievance can be investigated and considered without a meeting. The same applies to the Appeal process. Grievance Meeting The process at the Grievance meeting, including the role of the Companion, will mirror the process for current employees. The individual raising the grievance has the right to be accompanied to this meeting. The Manager hearing the Grievance may need to call on other parties for evidence, but will endeavour to progress the grievance in a timely and efficient manner. A written decision will be provided to the individual within 10 working days of the last meeting. The Appeal Process If the individual is unhappy with the outcome, they can request an appeal meeting. This must be done within 7 calendar days of the receipt of the letter advising them of the outcome of the first grievance meeting. The appeal meeting will be convened no later than 14 calendar days after receipt of the appeal request, and will be heard by a manager of equivalent or greater seniority, working in a different area of the organisation. As with the Grievance meeting, the Manager chairing the appeal will call the former employee to attend a meeting. The former employee will continue to enjoy the right to be accompanied, in accordance with the same policies as for current employees. The outcomes of the appeal meeting will be communicated to the employee in writing, within 5 working days of the final meeting. There is no further internal procedure for former employees to raise a Grievance. - 9

10 Written by: Policy and Practice Team (VE) Published: 1 Feb 2010 Revised: Jan

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