Structuring a grievance meeting

Before a meeting takes place, the relevant manager, as defined in the grievance procedure, should gather all the necessary facts from records, or other sources. If it seems likely that the problem will involve some aspect of rules or policies within the department or the University, the manager should have all the relevant facts at his or her fingertips in advance of the meeting and have sought advice from Personnel Services if appropriate.

The manager should ensure complete privacy and freedom from interruption and that adequate time will be available for the conduct of the meeting.

The employee has the right to be accompanied by a union representative or other colleague of his or her choice from within the University at each stage of the grievance procedure. Likewise, the relevant manager may wish to have an appropriate colleague with him or her (someone who is likely to be seen as impartial and knowledgeable and who can assist the objective assessment of the matter in hand).

At the start of the interview, the chairperson should clarify that the purpose of the meeting is to listen to the grievance as presented by the employee, or his/her representative, with a view to resolving it. It is good practice to ask the employee to present his/her grounds for grievance and to wait until he or she has finished setting out the problem before exploring any issues raised through appropriate questioning. It is helpful for such questioning to be objective, focused and probing and it may be especially useful, in the course of the meeting, to make use of the skills of summarising what the person has said, and reflecting back their key points. This demonstrates that the manager is listening, understands the points being raised and it should help to clarify the issues.

After the manager has listened to the grievance, he or she should supply, as objectively as possible, any pertinent facts of which the employee seems to be unaware. The manager may wish to summarise the problem as he or she sees it and, if a solution has been arrived at, encourage the employee to summarise this for themselves.

The manager should remember not to promise anything which cannot be delivered and, if the grievance has not been resolved through discussion, he or she should clarify what further steps may be taken to resolve it. If action has been agreed the manager should make a note of it and assure the employee that it will be carried out as soon as practicable. It is normal for the outcome and a brief note of any follow up action to be confirmed in writing to the employee.

The manager should also consider carefully whether anybody else is likely to be affected by what has been presented at the meeting and what has been agreed with the employee. If so, the manager should, following appropriate advice if necessary, take whatever steps may be necessary to inform other people, with due regard to the confidentiality of the matter.

In some cases it will be necessary, after due consideration, for the manager to inform the employee that he or she believes the grievance is without foundation and that no action will be taken. Sometimes it may be sensible to adjourn the grievance interview pending discussions with other managers, or to seek further advice, or to carry out further investigations. This will also allow time for the employee to reflect on the discussions. While procrastination should be avoided, an adjournment may also help to demonstrate that the manager is considering carefully what has been presented rather than reaching a snap judgement on the matter.

Where a complaint has been made against another member of staff there is a natural tendency to try to treat the matter as confidentially as possible with the result that, sometimes, not even the person about whom the complaint has been made may be told. It is usually essential to acquire both sides of the story and in almost all circumstances it is far better to involve the other person once a complaint has been raised and management has given preliminary thought as to how to deal with it. In cases where harassment has been alleged, however, it is particularly important for advice to be sought, at an early stage, from Personnel Services prior to bringing the respective parties together.

If a manager has been unable to resolve a grievance the employee may wish to pursue it further through the appropriate departmental grievance procedure and the same principles will apply at every stage. Ultimately, if a grievance is not resolved within the department it may be referred centrally by the individual as 'unresolved at departmental level' in accordance with the particular grievance procedure applicable.