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£35,000 for failure to protect employee from bullying – grievance procedure flawed

Whether or not Labour MP Jim Divine is the sort of chap you’d want round your house (jailed for expenses fraud in 2011, bullied his parliamentary aide the year before that, successfully sued by the same aide this week for defamation) he is today of note not because of his actions, but because of the Unite Union’s Lucille Harvey’s criticism of the wider Westminster grievance procedure:

“…this system (the typical small business system) results in very low success rates for grievance proceedings but also dissuades staff from even initiating a grievance procedure in the first place.”

In this case she was talking about the fact that Marion Kinley, the parliamentary aide in question, was unable to raise a grievance about Divine’s behaviour towards her to anyone other than Divine himself, whom she judged, not at all unreasonably, was unlikely to be terribly sympathetic to her cause.

Instead she resigned and brought initially a tribunal claim against him (and won £35K) and then, having found out he had accused her of fraud and having a gambling addiction, sued him again successfully for defamation.

About the grievance procedures Lucille Harvey added:

“Under the current system, where the subject of your grievance can be and often is the person who hears the grievance, there is simply no natural justice.”

This is something that those of us who run small businesses will be more than aware of. With only one, or perhaps a few managers, how do we create a credible avenue for employees to raise issues? It’s important not least because we need to convince courts that we have both:

  • established a fair procedure; and
  • stuck to it.

How can a procedure be fair, if the same person who hears the complaint, and presumably the appeal, is also the person the complaint was about in the first place?!

One solution is to ask an outside body to receive and even investigate complaints, if necessary mediating between the complainant and the business owner, or in the case of disciplinary allegations, to investigate the complaint and perhaps chair a subsequent hearing on behalf of the employer. A number of mediation companies have sprung up around evolving legislation in this area, and fees can be steep. Government body ACAS has their own mediation section, with charges from £1000 per day for mediation.

With respect to myhrdept customers we are able to provide the following support:

  • myhrdept to act as official point of contact for grievance complaints, grievance appeals and disciplinary appeals (this is a free service – please contact myhrdept to organise the necessary adjustments to your HR policies and employment contracts).
  • myhrdept is available to attend site to carry out investigations and chair hearings for 75% of our open market rates.

If you’re thinking of outsourcing your HR why not contact With full service packages for medium sized companies typically from only a few hundred per month (and from only £100 per month for smaller companies and start-ups) we believe we offer the best combination of quality and price available in the UK. Call us on 01628 820515 to discuss your requirements or email us here and we’ll call you back.

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