Grievance, Bullying and Harassment

Grievance, Bullying and Harassment

Workplace concerns and disputes, including bullying in the workplace, can affect employees at any level in any profession or industry. The purpose of raising a grievance is to allow you, as an employee, to air any issues or concerns you may have about your work, such as treatment from colleagues or proposed changes to workplace policies or procedures. Your reasons for bringing a grievance at work may also be linked to other wider issues. In all such cases, tackling these concerns promptly is likely to prevent them festering and becoming more difficult to address later.

As many of us spend more time with colleagues at work than we do friends or family at home, bullying in the workplace can be a major issue. It can have a serious impact on your performance and health, and have significant consequences on staff morale and the working environment, so it should never be ignored. All employers should have a bullying policy in place to deal with any workplace bullying. If they do not, then the grievance procedure should be used.

Both employees and employers benefit from a workplace where grievances can be raised and dealt with properly, so maximising the likelihood of reaching a resolution.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some of our most frequently asked questions when it comes to raising a grievance or complaining of bullying or harassment at work.

I am unhappy at work. How do I raise a complaint?

Before raising a grievance, you may wish to give some thought to whether it is an appropriate way of dealing with your concerns. If you are worried about proposed changes to certain working requirements or certain treatment you are receiving, you may wish to speak to your line manager directly about this and they may be able to explain why these changes are proposed without the need for a grievance.

However, in some circumstances you may feel such an informal approach is not appropriate and you should then raise your grievance in writing to your line manager as this allows everybody to understand your concerns. If your grievance relates to your line manager, you should raise your grievance with your line manager’s supervisor or a more senior employee.

I am being bullied at work. How do I get my employer to deal with it?

Depending on your situation, you could either pursue an informal or formal approach.

In some cases, a bully may not realise that they are causing you distress or upset and so speaking to them directly about it may alleviate the situation. In taking an informal approach, you would speak with your line manager or HR department about the bullying. They in turn should speak with the individual concerned, to help ensure the behaviour stops. If you feel able, you may find it helpful to speak with the bully directly. Some industries are more prone to having employees who engage in ‘banter’ and they may not realise they have stepped over a line and are being offensive towards you. A reasonable individual, on hearing the effect their actions or remarks have on you, would agree to stop.

Alternatively, if you are dealing with someone who is difficult to deal with or is deliberately behaving badly towards you, then you may need to pursue a formal process.  In this case, you should ask for a copy of your employer’s anti-bullying policy, and follow the procedure detailed within it. If there is no such policy, you should raise a grievance with your line manager in writing. Most employers will then start the process of investigating your complaint and holding a grievance hearing to enable you to explain what has been happening. If you feel a proper process has not been followed, you should seek legal advice.

What happens at a grievance meeting?

Since April 2009, the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures has existed to establish best practice for both grievance and disciplinary issues. For grievance hearings, the Code helps parties understand what fair procedure should be adopted. While larger employers may have their own staff grievance procedures, they must still follow the basic principles of the Code:

  • Grievances should always be raised in writing. This allows your employer to better understand your concerns.
  • The grievance hearing. Your employer should arrange this to discuss your issues. Your employer should arrange this hearing as soon as is reasonably practicable but equally your employer should be prepared to adjourn it if they believe further investigation is required. Your grievance hearing is an opportunity to open dialogue and often for management to explain decisions but also for you to suggest alternatives.
  • Accompaniment at a grievance hearing. You are entitled to bring with you a trade union representative or workplace colleague. You do not ordinarily have an automatic right to bring a legal representative, friend or relative as your companion.
  • Conclusion of the grievance hearing. Following your grievance hearing, your employer should consider the issues you have raised and provide you with a written outcome and why that outcome has been taken.
  • Appeal. Should you feel your grievance has not properly been dealt with, you have a right to appeal that grievance outcome and your employer should provide details as to how to do this.

I have been accused of bullying a colleague. What are my rights?

First of all: do not panic! If you become aware that you have upset a colleague it may help to seek them out and apologise for any offence caused. More often than not, an apology is often all that a colleague is seeking. If the allegation against you is serious then speak to someone in HR before you approach the person.

However, if a formal grievance has been submitted, you should remain calm and prepare to put forward your position as part of the grievance process:

  • Your employer should notify you of the grievance or complaint, and give you reasonable notice of the allegations raised to prepare your defence.
  • Keep records as evidence. This includes all memos, emails, notes, recordings, appraisals, etc. Having these items handy means they can be used to support your defence.
  • Be willing to participate in any informal resolution your employer may attempt. Some employers like to avoid formally handling grievances if possible, as often this does not improve relations between colleagues. Even if you think you have done nothing wrong, being prepared to try informally addressing the issues with a colleague can sometimes allow for a speedier resolution.
  • If your employer prefers a more formal approach or the informal approach fails, you should receive notice of the grievance hearing. This is your opportunity to put forward your defence, but you have no right to legal representation at the hearing.
  • Get hearing notes or minutes. Most employers will distribute grievance hearing notes and minutes as a matter of course, but if not, ensure you chase your employer for copies of them. Raise any instances where you disagree with what has been recorded.
  • Once your employer has reached a decision on the grievance, you should be given notice of the grievance outcome and how that outcome affects you.

It is important to remember that you should not automatically face disciplinary action on the back of a grievance raised by a colleague. The grievance process and disciplinary process are entirely separate. If your employer upholds the grievance, your employer may then decide to raise disciplinary proceedings against you on the basis of evidence obtained during the grievance process. However, these are entirely separate procedures.

How do I prepare for a grievance meeting?

In terms of preparing for a grievance hearing, most of the requirements fall on your employer to ensure a fair hearing.

As the employee, you should ensure that you are clear on the issues which you have raised in your grievance. Where necessary, you should refer to any documents which illustrate your concerns or support your grievance. You should avoid introducing new concerns into your grievance at the hearing stage as this is likely to confuse matters further.

Finally, you may wish to make use of your right of accompaniment. If you are a member of trade union, you should ask your union for union representation. Or, you may wish to bring a workplace colleague, as long as they are not mentioned or involved in the grievance.

Can my partner come with me for support to the meeting?

You will only have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or work colleague to your grievance hearing. This is because at a grievance hearing you will not be facing any risk of dismissal or disciplinary charges: the purpose of a grievance hearing is to air concerns and provide explanations; it is not to sanction the grievance-raiser.

A colleague has made upsetting and sexually suggestive comments to me. What can I do?

When it comes to bullying or harassment with a sexual element, an informal approach is far less appropriate and you should speak immediately to your line manager or HR department.

You should raise a grievance in accordance with your employer’s grievance or bullying policy. This will likely require your employer to launch an investigation into the comments made by your colleague and if your employer decides there is enough evidence that these comments were said or actions taken, you should be advised of the steps the company proposes to take to protect you from further upset.

One other key point to bear in mind with sexual harassment is that you may feel you cannot raise the issue with your employer as, for example, you worry you may lose face in the office, or will be ostracised, or that such behaviour is simply part of an office culture. Remember there is no place for sexual harassment in any workplace and you should consider getting legal advice if you feel that may help you in raising these concerns with your employer.

How can Thorntons help?

Thorntons specialist Employment Law team can advise you of your rights in terms of lodging a grievance, or a complaint about bullying or harassment at work, and how best to bring it to your employer’s attention. We can also provide employment law advice and support in relation to how your employer should handle your grievance, and rectify any workplace issues identified. Additionally, our employment lawyers can assist you if you feel your complaint has not been properly handled and discuss what next steps are open to you.

Call the Thorntons Employment Law team on 03330 430 350 to find out more about our services, or complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you.

Depending on your case and circumstances, the first step is usually to arrange an appointment to come into one of our local offices to meet an Employment Law Solicitor to discuss your situation and the way forward. We will outline your options and, depending on your circumstances, we can look at various funding options to help with your case costs.

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