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Grievance, Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

As an employer, you are responsible for the wellbeing of your employees. It makes good business sense too, as employees who are happy in their workplace have a positive impact on your organisation.

It is in your interest to address any issues such as stress at work or disputes arising in the workplace swiftly to ensure that you minimise their negative effect on individuals, the organisation and the business. Similarly, aggressive or threatening behaviour by an employee toward their colleagues or your customers needs to be resolved at the earliest opportunity. 

Many grievances can be resolved informally without having to go through a formal grievance procedure. Where they cannot be resolved informally, it is important you have a documented grievance policy and follow the steps.  Ideally you should have a staff handbook or separate policies to deal with grievances, allegations of bullying and harassment, or stress in the workplace and how employees can raise any concerns they have.

Dealing with workplace issues

There are various ways, as an employer, you can help deal with grievance, bullying, harassment and stress issues in the workplace, such as

A grievance refers to a problem, concern or complaint that an employee raises with you, often through a grievance letter (although sometimes it might be raised verbally), such as a health and safety concern or an allegation of bullying. How you approach a grievance process will very much dictate the outcome and it is important to try to avoid an antagonistic approach in order to avoid the situation escalating and the employee become more aggrieved. 

The first step is to try and resolve the matter informally, which will benefit all parties involved by saving on time, money and stress levels.

However, it is not always possible or appropriate to resolve matters informally and this is where having a grievance policy in place is important. A grievance policy sets out the procedure that will be adopted when addressing a grievance and will ensure complaints are dealt with in a manner that is reasonable, fair and consistent and in accordance with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievances.

Bullying and harassment is damaging to any workplace and can be difficult to deal with, leading to grievances, absences and increased stress. It is in the interest of every employer to ensure that any instances of bullying and harassment in their business are dealt with swiftly and effectively. Because of this, it is important that any allegations of harassment and bullying are treated seriously.

Having a bullying and harassment policy in place should help employees and managers to identify bullying and harassment and minimise confusion over what is prohibited conduct. It should clearly set out how employees should report an act of bullying or harassment, how this will then be investigated and the procedure to be followed.

You should make it clear that the policy applies to behaviour not only in the workplace but also to conduct during work-related trips and events. You may also decide to extend this policy to require employees to treat customers with the same respect as they would their colleagues.

The Health and Safety Executive defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work’. While feeling under some pressure at work is an accepted norm in any workplace, this can turn into stress if the employee no longer feels able to cope with the situation. If the stress is too much for them, it can lead to serious mental and physical illness – a situation no employer wants to see for their employee.

Further, employees being stressed at work or having to take time off work with stress can have a detrimental effect on your business and so should be managed promptly.

Some of the ways you can address and evaluate the levels of stress in your workplace include:

  • Stress audit: This will highlight particular areas of your workforce that may be under too much pressure, providing you with an opportunity to improve working practices.
  • Return-to-work interviews: These will allow you to identify employees who have been absent due to a stress-related illness.
  • Training: The right training will help managers to identify and deal with stressed employees.
  • Consultation: Consult employees, employee representatives and trade unions before making significant changes to working practices.
  • Realistic productivity targets: Ensure that your expectations of your workforce’s productivity are reasonable.
  • Counselling: Provide counselling for employees struggling with stress.

A Stress of the Workplace Policy will explain that you will endeavour to support and assist employees suffering from stress and provide employees with guidance on how they can deal with workplace stress. 

In many situations, alternative methods of resolving disputes such as mediation or facilitated meetings can help resolve workplace disputes effectively without working relationships being irreparably damaged. We will explore with you the most appropriate way of dealing with a dispute and through our network of contacts can put you in contact with accredited mediators.

How can Thorntons help?

Thorntons specialist Employment Law team can help you by putting in place policies on grievances, bullying and harassment appropriate to your organisation. Our team can also provide support at every stage of managing such processes, from help preparing letters to attending meetings.

We can also advise you on how best to manage stress in your workplace, including drafting a Stress in the Workplace policy, which will set out how you will detect, react to and manage work-related stress.

In most employment situations taking legal advice early on can often stop the situation from escalating and will save you time and money later. With our proactive and commercial advice, Thorntons Employment Law team can help find the right solution for you with grievance, bullying and harassment, and stress management issues in the workplace. Give one of our team a call on 03330 430 350 , or complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you.