I was at the zoo recently, watching the baboons interacting and it occurred to me that humans are not dissimilar from baboons when it comes to the way we behave, except our teeth are less sharp and settling our differences with a hard nip, is no longer considered acceptable.

As a person managing humans, you need to be clear about what the expectations are when those humans aren’t getting along. Simple, clear grievance procedures giving steps for your humans to follow when they feel unhappy about a work-related matter, can prevent a return to the law of the jungle.

What is a Grievance

Grievances are complaints, concerns or problems raised by an employee to their employer, which typically could be resolved by procedures provided for in a collective agreement, an employee contract, or by other mechanisms established by an employer.

As workplace investigators, we are called to investigate a wide range of grievances from pay and benefits disputes, employee workloads, work conditions, management relations and employee misconduct such as bullying and harassment.

When this happens, the Terms of Reference (TOR) from the employer will ask the investigator to identify any systemic issues we find and for us to make recommendations on how that employer can improve systems, processes or culture so as to reduce the chance of the issue reoccurring. Often, we find ourselves recommending improvements to the grievance procedure, or implementing grievance procedures where none exist.

Many times, our investigators have been called in to resolve matters in which the parties involved are at each other’s throats and there are no guidelines in place for dealing with conflict.

As a business, your greatest asset is your team of humans. It doesn’t matter if the person is a cleaner or a board executive, they all have important roles to play, but unfortunately there will be times when the communication breaks down and the team members don’t see eye to eye.

One of our first requests, once we have been engaged to start an investigation, is for the employer, usually the Human Resources Manager, to send us the relevant internal policies and procedures.

Many times, this is the first indication of why a situation has escalated. The Grievance procedure is a means for dispute resolution that can be used by a company to address complaints by employees, customers and suppliers. The Grievance procedure does not have to be formal and elaborate, in fact, a complicated procedure can often discourage the airing of disputes. In small businesses, the procedure may only consist of a few sentences in the employee manual. The important part is there are steps in place to guide staff who are having problems.

An effective grievance procedure can help management discover and correct problems within an organisation before they cause serious trouble.

Checklist for Grievance Handling

Remember that once an employee has a grievance, that grievance can easily escalate. The employee will start looking for support among their peers and this is where the matter can get out of hand very quickly.

Grievance handling checklist:

  • Have I listened carefully to the complainant? Act quickly to ascertain the facts.
  • Have I offered the employee somewhere quiet and private to air their grievances?
  • Have I asked the employee to provide a detailed written account of what happened in chronological order?
  • Have I asked if the complaint breaches any OHS and Anti-Discrimination laws? Is it a criminal matter? Are you obliged to take action to stop the alleged conduct?
  • Have my employer’s polices and procedures been followed?
  • Do I need to pursue a formal investigation?
  • Have I considered how the parties will communicate and interact from this point on during the investigation process?

Download a copy of a sample grievance procedure Click Here

 One helpful question to ask the complainant is “What outcome do you want from this grievance?” This helps the employee’s mind focus on possible solutions rather than looking at just the problem.