How to deal with grievances

A Social Work Union Guide

Question:
What issues arise when launching a grievance within the workplace and what are the processes to consider in preparing and developing a case against another member of the workforce, particularly a senior manager?

Answer:
If you are aggrieved or upset about something that has happened to you at work, you have the right to take out a grievance. There are times when there is no other option than to raise a grievance but it is important to have attempted, if possible, a resolution first, prior to instigating the formal procedure. If that doesn’t work, it is vital to ensure the grievance is based on clear evidence.

It is also important to be clear on the outcome you are seeking. It is always better to try to form as objective an overview as possible due to the emotional and traumatising circumstances that are usually prevalent in causing an individual to raise a grievance. This is where a professional representative can be essential in helping to facilitate a positive result, and provide the objectivity and legal guidance required.

Throughout the process of a grievance there are opportunities for mediation, depending on the nature of the grievance and the willingness of both parties to resolve the dispute.

In one case that BASW’s A&R team worked on recently, a member had issued a grievance against an assistant director and head of service. This was running concurrently with a disciplinary investigation. The grievance matter raised the stakes and increased the air of hostility, conflict and tension, so it was especially necessary to ensure the grievance was evidence-based and did not affect the disciplinary investigation. Some good employer’s suspend disciplinary hearings in order to hear genuine concerns of the employee in question. However, some others will not permit a grievance to be raised once a disciplinary process has been instigated.

The organisation at the centre of the dispute appointed an internal manager from its legal section to consider the grievance. The grievance was therefore influenced by internal politics, as the investigator was not independent. Ultimately, this led to a heavily biased outcome in favour of the management, who had been accused of harassment and bullying. There was sufficient evidence to support harassment, but not bullying. This situation is not always the case, however, as good grievance policies will state that any investigator should be independent, with no previous involvement in the case. This does not necessarily mean externally independent to the employer, though in some cases it is preferable.

From BASW’s involvement in this particular case, we felt the senior managers were target-driven and outcome-focused, without understanding the need to engage staff to change cultural inefficiencies. They also appeared to lack an understanding of how human and physical resource deficiencies impacted upon service delivery. Following the grievance report, which was highly critical of the manager, BASW’s A&R representative requested that the director of social services met with the member, and the representative, to discuss how the situation could be rectified. It was important that, with A&R support, the social worker was able to detail exactly how the grievance report was both inaccurate and subjective, and therefore detrimental to the social worker who had brought the initial grievance. By detailing the areas of concern, the director was able to evaluate the report and was unable to disagree that it was flawed and inappropriate. Without BASW’s involvement the member would have been unlikely to have achieved such a positive outcome. We challenged the authority based on evidence and facts, and ensured they followed fair and transparent processes.

The local authority now appears to be engaged in a positive change of culture. Of course the fall out from autocratic and dysfunctional senior management will take some time to be eradicated but the positive seeds of change have been planted. There are a number of key factors to be mindful of in grievance processes [see panel] but one of the chief issues to look for in any emerging case is the culture of an organisation. Are there clear and measurable organisational goals?; is there an autocratic management regime centred on a blame and scapegoat culture?

The social worker/manager who is involved in disciplinary and grievance actions, either as the subject or participant against the subject, should consider this basic checklist to ensure that there is a fair, proportionate and evidence-based process from start to finish. That is what BASW, as advisors and representatives, ensures takes place, often in adverse conditions where there has been a high degree of conflict. Remember to call the duty advice line at the initial stages to maximise the potential of a positive outcome. Even where this is not possible, having support and guidance during these tough times is invaluable.

 

Grievance in brief – what to consider:

• Evidence, evidence, and more evidence

• Your employer has a duty of care

• Honesty – be honest in your account of what has happened

• Is there regular and recorded supervision

• Do you have training opportunities?

Published : 2nd January 2012*

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* Although BASW has prepared the information contained within Social Work Knowledge with all due care and updates the information regularly, BASW does not warrant or represent that the information is free from errors or omission. Whilst the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of the information. The information may change without notice and BASW is not in any way liable for the accuracy of any information printed and stored or in any way interpreted and used by a user.