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Handling Employee Incidents and Grievances

Author: Dave Rietsema - Matchr CEO

As an employer, it’s your job to ensure that your employees feel safe and supported in the workplace. So when an employee comes to the human resources department with a grievance, all accusations and concerns must be taken seriously. Learn more here about employee grievances and how to address them. 

What Is an Employee Grievance? 

To put it simply, an employee grievance is a concern or complaint the employee has regarding anything in the workplace — whether that’s an issue with a colleague, an issue with the type of work they do, or an issue with their actual workplace. No matter what the grievance is, it must be taken seriously by the organization. 

When incidents occur that affect the well being of employees or undermine the company culture, it is important to address the issues in a way that is effective and legal. Far too often, employee incidents and grievances are swept under the rug with the explanation that the issue is “under investigation.” However, unhandled incidents have the potential to detract from employee satisfaction, elevate turnover, and cause legal troubles. 

What Are the Types of Employee Grievances? 

The most common types of grievances are related to compensation, workload, work conditions, and even bullying. Below are some examples of each type of employment grievance: 

  • Compensation grievances: The employee would like a higher salary, more comprehensive benefits, or they want expenses covered (such as expenses related to work tools, commuting, etc.).
  • Workload grievances: The employee feels that their workload is too high and wants you to hire additional help, or perhaps they feel as though they are being assigned the wrong type of work. 
  • Work conditions grievances: The employee has an issue with their actual workplace related to cleanliness, safety hazards, provided tools, or office temperature. 
  • Bullying grievances: The employee feels that they are being bullied or harassed by a colleague. This grievance could include rude remarks, unwanted physical contact, or offensive jokes. 

6 Steps of the Employee Grievance Process

When an employee approaches you with a grievance such as those outlined above, it’s your job to take it seriously and follow the proper procedure to address the issue. The following actions should be taken to handle employee incidents and grievances.

1. Address Complaints

Sitting down with an employee and listening to their grievances or a description of how an incident occurred is an important first step. Far too often, employees’ complaints are brushed off or even mocked, which can make employees feel unvalued and can cause dissatisfaction in the workplace. If it makes more sense, allowing employees to report incidents or grievances using messaging or the telephone may also be helpful.

2. Document Incidents

Having a written record of when an incident occurred that details all relevant information can be helpful in an investigation. All individuals that were involved, including employees, customers, and even bystanders, should be interviewed and statements should be taken. If disciplinary action is required or if accident reports are relevant, these should be filled out and notations should be made on all documentation detailing the actions that have been taken.

3. Perform an Investigation

Investigations may vary depending on the type of incident, but an unbiased investigator should always be the one in charge. Bringing in a corporate HR professional may make sense if the company is large. If a company is small, it may be necessary to hire a third party to investigate.

Investigation tactics may include installing cameras or checking feeds, gathering evidence to support or invalidate employees’ stories, and checking company records for issues like theft or payroll fraud. Performing an investigation can help to ensure that an incident occurred the way that it was reported, but can also help to identify issues that can be changed to prevent future incidents and complaints.

4. Take Action To Make Changes

Taking action is important to show employees that the company is serious about resolving issues. Actions taken may vary widely, however, and not everyone is going to agree with the actions taken in any given situation.

If a grievance stems from harassment, for example, instituting training to identify and discourage harassment may be helpful. If a grievance stems from theft, implementing cameras may work to prevent future problems.

5. Keep Everything Confidential

Talking too much about an incident, especially with individuals not affected by the incident, can be damaging to an investigation and can even result in legal action. Employees that could have been helpful to an investigation may clam up after being forewarned about what is going on. If a person has been accused of something and finds out via the rumor mill, the individual may also have grounds for a defamation lawsuit.

6. Use Disciplinary Tools Wisely

In many cases, employers are tempted to immediately fire anyone accused of wrongdoing, but this may be the wrong approach. If someone made an honest mistake that affected others unfavorably, coaching may be more helpful and suited to changing the situation than firing. If employees have engaged in violence, predatory behavior, or theft, however, firing is appropriate after the incident has been investigated satisfactorily.

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