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How to ... Recognise and deal with staff grievances

GP employers must follow the right procedure if dealing with unhappy staff.

A staff member with a grievance, be this about how the practice manager treats them or a falling out with another staff member, can lower team morale and reduce efficiency.

The more quickly the problem is dealt with, the smaller the chance of it turning into a major headache, or even an employment tribunal claim. If an employee invokes the statutory grievance procedure, woe may betide the practice that fails to follow it.

Grievance procedure
An employee must raise their grievance in writing. The practice then has 28 days to acknowledge the complaint and invite the employee to a meeting to discuss it.

The practice should investigate the complaint before the meeting while the staff member must take all reasonable steps to attend. They have the right to be accompanied by another employee or a trade union representative.

After the meeting, the practice must inform the employee of its decision and notify them of their right to appeal.

If the employee informs you that they want to appeal, you must invite them to an appeal meeting.

The person who dealt with the grievance initially should not chair this meeting.

If practicable, the chairman should be more senior - a GP partner, for example. The employee must take all reasonable steps to attend.

Afterwards, the person who chaired must inform the employee of the final decision.

Modified procedure
This omits the requirement for a meeting but only applies in limited circumstances and if the parties agree to it in writing.

In can be used where the individual is no longer a staff member, and the standard grievance procedure had not started or had not finished before the employee's last day.

Employment tribunal
Generally an employee cannot bring a claim through an employment tribunal claim unless they have raised a grievance in writing with the employer.

Practices need to be aware that tribunals have ruled that putting a grievance in writing can be done in a variety of ways other than by letter.

If the practice fails to identify a communication from an employee as a grievance notification, it might then be faced with a tribunal claim for failure to comply with the statutory procedure.

If such a claim is successful, any compensation awarded is increased by 10 to 50 per cent depending on the extent of the breaches.

Similarly, if the employee fails to follow the procedure, their compensation is reduced by 10 to 50 per cent.

Identifying a grievance
Tribunal decisions have established that there is no need for an employee to follow an employer's/contractual grievance procedure.

Practices need to treat any communication that could amount to a written complaint as a grievance and should follow the statutory procedure.

In one recent case, a tribunal held that a note taken by a second employee at a meeting where an employee's grievance was discussed counted as written notification because it contained allegations of sex and race discrimination that would 'reasonably' raise concerns.

If an employee asks to discuss a grievance informally and notes are taken to facilitate an investigation, it may be prudent to ask the employee if they wish to have a further meeting and to keep a file note of their response.

As a precaution, GP employers should seek legal advice at an early stage to avoid inadvertently breaching the procedure, and being at risk of claims.

Claire Brook is an associate in the employment team at solicitors Aaron & Partners in Chester (www.aaronandpartners.com)

Grievance procedures:

Written notification
An employee has to set out their grievance in writing. Practices need to be aware of any expressions of dissatisfaction/complaints that are likely to be grievances.

The practice should invite the employee to a meeting to discuss their grievance and inform them of their right to be accompanied. Following the meeting, notify the employee of your decision and of their right of appeal.

If the employee appeals, hold a further meeting with a more senior manager and notify the employee of the final decision.

Written notification
Employment tribunals have accepted the following to be written notification of a grievance:

  • Solicitor's letter on an employee's behalf seeking financial compensation.
  • Resignation letter.
  • Emails that detail complaints.
  • Text message.
  • Letter from an employee's chiropractor explaining that adjustments were required to their role.
  • Informal request for flexible working.

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