In a previous article, I wrote about the common root causes of labour grievances. Most of the time, these labour grievances are prompted by harassment and discrimination, unfair treatment, wage and compensation disputes, unsafe working conditions, hostile environments or bullying, lack of training and development, wrongful termination, violation of company policies, work-life balance issues, benefits and leave issues, whistleblower retaliation, and privacy violations.
Addressing labour grievances is crucial because whether it is justified, it can still affect the motivation and performance of employees, as well as have an impact on the work environment. Having the labour grievance unaddressed can also lead to a bigger dispute that can negatively affect productivity and seep into the company culture.
Employers are responsible for investigating and correcting the issues brought to their attention. According to Mahir Nisar, principal at employment litigation firm Nisar Law Group, an employer is not permitted by law to retaliate against employees for making a complaint, so they will be reluctant when employees have a paper trail evidencing their protected complaint.
Disregarding complaints can harm not only the manager but also the entire organization's reputation, as exemplified in a recent viral town hall where a CEO advised employees to "leave pity city" in response to compensation concerns. As Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O'Neill aptly pointed out, “Telling employees to ‘put a lid’ on [their] feelings is both ineffective and destructive; the emotions will just come out later in counterproductive ways.”
Dealing with employee grievances
So, how do you deal with employee grievances? An employee's grievance requires them initiating a discussion with their employer. In some cases, an initial informal conversation when they first bring up their concern can effectively resolve the matter. However, this approach may not always suffice. Consequently, the employee may choose to escalate the issue by formally lodging a grievance. It's crucial to note that if the employee ultimately decides to bring the matter before an employment tribunal without having previously raised a formal grievance, any compensation awarded to them by the tribunal may be reduced.
Mediation techniques offer several benefits and challenges when used to facilitate resolution between conflicting parties during the grievance process. On the positive side, mediation promotes voluntary participation, creating a more cooperative environment where parties are more inclined to collaborate in finding a resolution. The process is typically confidential, providing a safe space for open dialogue without fear of public exposure. A neutral third-party mediator guides the discussion, ensuring a balanced exchange of viewpoints, which can help prevent power imbalances. Moreover, mediation allows for customized solutions, addressing the unique needs and interests of the parties involved, resulting in more satisfactory and mutually beneficial outcomes. However, challenges may arise as well. Parties must agree to mediate, and if one side is unwilling, the process cannot proceed. Mediators must navigate complex emotions, power dynamics, and entrenched positions, requiring advanced communication and negotiation skills. Finally, there is no guarantee of a successful resolution, as it ultimately depends on the willingness of the parties to collaborate and compromise.
How to resolve employee grievances in the workplace
Mediating labor grievances effectively is essential for maintaining a positive work environment and resolving conflicts between employees and employers. Here's a general guide on how to mediate in times of labor grievances and what employers should do in cases of disputes:
Establish clear workplace policies
Begin by having well-defined workplace policies and procedures in place that address common employment issues and grievances. Make sure all employees are aware of these policies.
Open communication channels
Encourage open and transparent communication between employees and supervisors. Ensure that employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns without fear of retaliation.
Develop a clear and formal grievance procedure that employees can follow when they have concerns or disputes. Ensure this procedure is documented and easily accessible.
Appoint a mediator
When a dispute arises, designate a neutral and trained mediator to facilitate the resolution process. This mediator can be someone within the organization, an HR professional, or an external mediator.
Emphasise the importance of confidentiality throughout the mediation process to create a safe environment for all parties involved.
When employees bring forth their grievances, listen actively to their concerns. Let them express their points of view without interruptions.
For more serious grievances, conduct a thorough investigation to gather all relevant information. This may involve speaking with witnesses and reviewing documents.
Analyse the situation
Analyse the situation objectively and consider all perspectives. Identify the underlying causes of the grievance.
Encourage open dialogue between the involved parties. Mediation often involves discussions where both sides can express their views, feelings, and proposed solutions.
Work with the parties involved to find a mutually agreeable solution to the grievance. Focus on finding common ground and compromise when necessary.
Document the outcome
Ensure that all agreements, resolutions, or actions resulting from the mediation process are documented and communicated to all parties involved.
After the resolution, conduct follow-up meetings or checks to ensure that the issue has been fully addressed and that both parties are satisfied.
Take proactive steps to prevent similar grievances from arising in the future. This may involve training, policy updates, or changes in workplace culture.
Ensure that the resolution process adheres to all relevant labour laws and regulations. Consult with legal counsel if necessary.
Continuously review and improve your grievance resolution process based on feedback and evolving workplace dynamics.
In cases of disputes, it's crucial for employers to approach them with a fair and objective mindset, prioritize resolving the issue promptly, and focus on maintaining a positive and harmonious work environment. Legal advice may be needed in some cases, especially if the dispute involves complex legal issues or potential violations of labour laws. Employers should always act in accordance with applicable employment laws and regulations to avoid legal repercussions.