Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Submitting a workplace grievance: A brief employee's guide

At some point in your working life you are bound to find yourself involved in a grievance. You may be the one putting it forward, a witness, or even the person it is being lodged about. Whatever the case, it is not a very pleasant experience and can take some time and angst to be resolved.

In this post we will be concentrating on the situation of the grievance being submitted by you.

Photo credit: alasam via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

To say something or not, that is the question....

So many employees are not willing to come forward when there is a problem in the workplace. No one wants to be seen as "troublesome" and often we don't know where to start or if it will be taken seriously.

An important thing to remember is that in the workplace there really are no off the record discussions.

Let me say that again because it is really important.
There are no off the record discussions.
Managers, HR staff and even employees in some cases have an obligation under different legislation to take any grievances seriously and act upon them. Unfortunately it does mean your ability to go to your Manager with a complaint and say "but please don't do anything about it" is just not possible in most circumstances. And, to be frank, if you are taking it to your Manager then you really do want someone to do something about it.

When should you say something?

If you have something happening in the workplace that makes you unhappy, frustrated, confused, agitated, anxious or that you think is affecting someone else in this way, or is illegal then you absolutely should bring it to someone's attention. I know that is often easier said than done, so it can help to talk it out with a trusted friend or your partner who doesn't work with you to get their advice and perspective.
There are so many situations that it isn't possible to list them all, but common reasons for grievances include:
  • not receiving an internal job role or promotion
  • not receiving a pay rise
  • bullying or harassment in the workplace
  • health and safety concerns

What is the usual practice when you submit a grievance
This depends on your workplace. The first thing you should check is your Industrial Instrument (Enterprise Agreement, Modern Award or Contract of Employment that you are employed under) and Company Policies. Most organisations recognise the need for a documented grievance process. This can often be termed "dispute resolution" within these documents. 
You should follow this process, which generally involves putting the grievance in writing, attending an interview to put your side forward, and then a follow up meeting as to the outcome. 

Alternatives to a written grievance
Most of the time a good first step is to discuss your grievance with a relevant person. For most organisations, there is an expectation that an employee will take any issues or questions to their direct Manager. If you aren't comfortable in doing this, or if it doesn't work, or if your Industrial Instrument/Company Policies require a written grievance (usually the case for bullying or harassment claims), then here are some tips

Tips for a written grievance
1. Keep to the facts. Don't use statements like "xyz always does abc". The person investigating the grievance needs concrete information and generalisations will be ignored
2. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. This may seem odd, but it will help you to write a good submission if you can read it from the other "side" and know you would be able to respond to it and understand what the grievance was about
3. Be clear about why you are submitting the grievance. Do you want an apology? A review of the recruitment file? A mediation session? Something specific to change?
4. Follow up.

If I am submitting a grievance about another person, will they know that I have done this?
This is part of due process and fairness to the person. Try and imagine if you had a complaint against you and were not given any details about the complaint, just told (for example) that you breached a safety policy. It becomes almost impossible to respond to.
If the person retaliates against you for making a grievance, then you are able to put in a subsequent one for victimisation which makes the grievance much more serious.
*Unless you are in an organisation covered by the Protected Disclosures Act (e.g. A Government organisation) and you are submitting a grievance based on something covered by that Act such as fraud or corrupt conduct.

Possible outcomes
In workplace law, a "balance of probabilities" test is used. This does not have the same onus of evidence as criminal law with "beyond reasonable doubt".
It basically means that the person investigating the grievance is deciding if it is more likely than not that the alleged incident/action occurred. 
Most of the time you are unlikely to find out the outcome to your grievance. This is because it would be a privacy issue to let you know about any action taken against the other person by the organisation. Unless it is obvious (i.e. an apology occurs, meditation etc.) then you may never know what happened. 

Don't underestimate the stress that you can experience through a grievance process and take advantage of any employee assistance programs (EAP) your organisation may offer.
And of course, if the behaviour continues, incident repeats etc. then you need to notify the relevant contact person in your organisation straight away.

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