Extract from Discipline, Disputes and Grievances module.
Handling disputes and grievances in-house
- Employers may have in-house policies and procedures for dealing with employment relationship problems. They should be incorporated in employment agreements or the organisation’s policies.
- Even where there are established in-house policies and procedures, employees (and employers) are still entitled to take disputes and grievances to the Employment Relations Authority.
- Giving employees access to an in-house process can help to keep issues at a local level, avoid escalation, and lessen delays in seeking resolution of problems.
- Getting employees (and their unions) to agree to an in-house procedure will give it credibility and encourage people to accept its processes and outcomes.
A formal in-house procedure
Set out below is a four-stage procedure that can be adapted for most organisations.
Some might see it as bureaucratic — yet it is much less bureaucratic than the formal procedures and requirements of the Employment Relations Act 2000. In any case, a disputes procedure needs to be systematic — or it risks failing the test of procedural fairness.
The in-house procedure is contained in this model policy statement — which also has the forms needed to make the process work.
Download the model policy on "Resolving Employees’ Complaints and Grievances" — Download Policy
Step 1: Making a complaint/raising a grievance
- An employee who has a complaint or grievance takes it up with his or her immediate manager, supervisor or team leader.
- If that is not possible or inappropriate (eg the complaint is about that manager), the problem may be raised with the manager at the next higher level.
- In exceptional circumstances, the issue may be taken up with a “neutral” party (eg the human resources department).
The aim is to get problems resolved as quickly as possible, with the least possible disruption, as closely as possible to the point where they arise.
This guide sheet has advice on how to handle employees’ complaints and grievances. It emphasises calm and careful problem-solving rather than conflict and confrontation.
Downloadable guide sheet on Handling employees' complaints available for subscribers of Workforce Manager
Step 3: Put the problem in writing
- If the complaint or grievance cannot be resolved by the manager and employee together, the employee makes a written statement of the problem and hands that to the manager.
Use this simple form — which is one of the attachments to the model policy — to get the problem stated in the employee’s own words (and, probably, handwritten). But watch for employees who have difficulty with English or expressing themselves in writing.
Downloadable model form on Employee’s written statement of complaint or grievance available for subscribers of Workforce Manager
Step 3: Deal with the problem
- The manager acknowledges the employee’s problem statement and arranges a meeting to discuss the problem and possible solutions. Aim to reach agreement on a solution at the meeting.
Correspondence can take time, and it may delay dealing with the issue. That can be good, if it lets the heat go out of a situation — but not if it looks as though the employer is trying to avoid the issue. In most cases, the employee’s complaint and the employer’s acknowledgment can be exchanged very quickly.
Downloadable model on Manager’s acknowledgement of employee’s statement of complaint or grievance available for subscribers of Workforce Manager
- If the manager and employee cannot reach a solution, the manager — after investigating the situation and considering what the employee and others say — makes a decision and informs the employee.
Use this form to record the solution agreed by the employer and the employee, or the decision reached by the employer if agreement was not possible.
Downloadable model form on Decision on employee’s complaint or grievance available for subscribers of Workforce Manager
Step 4: Review the decision
- If the employee is not satisfied with the decision, or with the way the complaint or grievance has been handled, an in-house review of the decision may be requested.
Use this form for the employee to request a review of the decision. It’s one of the attachments to the model policy.
Downloadable model form on Employee’s request for review of decision on complaint available for subscribers of Workforce Manager
As an alternative, the employee may invoke the disputes or personal grievance procedures provided by the Employment Relations Act.
This is a sample of the extensive content available to subscribers of New Zealand Workforce Manager and was last reviewed: 1 February 2016.
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