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All too often employee grievances escalate into bitter personal disputes, and if both parties choose to employ lawyers, then grievances can quickly escalate into costly constructive dismissal battles.

Having a clear and effective grievance procedure in place can help employers:

  • resolve complaints raised by employees;
  • identify issues that they need to address; and
  • avoid employees making claims to the employment tribunal.

The danger of grievances ‘going wrong’ is particularly acute in small businesses, where the absence of internal advice and support can result in both employer and employee seeking support from third parties. Sometimes lawyers lack the pragmatic experience of managing in-house disputes (increasing the chance of litigation) and helplines rarely understand the context of a small business, leading to inappropriate advice. In these situations, other employees can be dragged unwillingly into the process and employee relations generally suffer.

Employers should ensure that they comply with the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures, a new version of which was published in March 2015. The code allows for employees to be accompanied at a formal grievance hearing and to appeal against the outcome if they remain dissatisfied. It is normal for employers to investigate the facts behind a grievance before a formal hearing takes place, and the investigation phase may include interviewing several witnesses as well as the employee raising the grievance.

With regard to the companion – there is no requirement for an employee’s choice of a particular companion to be reasonable, provided that the companion is within one of the prescribed categories, i.e. a trade union representative or a co-worker. The request to be accompanied must be reasonable, not the choice of companion. You cannot, therefore, refuse a choice of companion because of factors such as geographical proximity for example.

myHRdept has been helping small businesses to cost effectively manage grievances through a combination of pragmatic advice to both ‘sides’ and, in some cases mediation. Sometimes where disputes have already become bitter it has been sensible for us to provide an independent HR advisor to bring matters to a head, usually through our chairing a grievance hearing on behalf of the Company. Our clients benefit from our understanding of the demands of small business and, in the case of existing clients, our understanding of their particular business and the personalities involved.

Lawyers will typically charge £150 – £300 per hour for dealing with grievances and it is not unusual for bills of £10K+ to accumulate. Employing a suitably qualified HR company however (who should include a trained mediator in their ranks) should cost £1,500 – £3,000 depending on the complexity of the case.

Typical employment law pitfalls

Typical employment law pitfalls stem from failing to respect confidentiality, failing to react to a grievance quickly enough, not allowing an employee to be accompanied at hearings or, very commonly, failing to carry out a proper investigation. A badly handled grievance could in some circumstances amount to a breach of trust and confidence justifying the employee to deem themself as effectively unfairly dismissed (constructive dismissal).

Help and support

If you’re thinking of outsourcing your HR, payroll or employment law needs, why not contact myHRdept? Call us on 01628 820515, email us at to discuss your requirements, or contact us via our website and we’ll call you back.


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