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Maintaining a harmonious and productive environment in the workplace is crucial for the success of an organisation, its employers and employees. When people are working in close proximity, conflicts and disputes are bound to arise. These often necessitate the implementation of disciplinary actions or the lodging of grievances. Both of these mechanisms are vital in upholding fairness, ensuring accountability and preserving the well-being of both individuals and organisations.
Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) works with millions of employees and employers every year. The organisation aims to improve relationships in the workplace. In their annual report for 2020-2021, Acas dealt with 115,000 requests for individual conciliation and answered 710,000 calls to their helpline. Of the 264,000 individuals who used the dispute resolution service, only 7% ended up at an Employment Tribunal hearing. As we can see from these figures, disciplinaries and grievances are common, but resolutions do happen frequently.
What is a disciplinary at work?
A disciplinary at work is a formal process that employers use to address employee misconduct or breaches of company policies and procedures. It is a means of enforcing accountability, maintaining standards and ensuring the smooth functioning of the organisation. Disciplinary actions are typically taken when an employee’s behaviour, actions or performance fall short of the expected standards.
There are multiple purposes to a disciplinary. Disciplinaries are used to address performance issues and poor conduct, and they also provide opportunities for employees to rectify the situation. When employers are seen to have a robust disciplinary policy, this can also act as a deterrent. Disciplinary procedures are also there to maintain a safe working environment for all and to protect the interests and the rights of other employees.
Fair disciplinary action
Disciplinary procedures must be conducted fairly and follow legal requirements and internal policies. This means providing the employee with a reasonable opportunity to respond to allegations and allowing them to present their case to ensure that decisions are based on objective evidence. Fairness and transparency should be maintained throughout the entire disciplinary process.
What is a grievance at work?
A grievance at work refers to a formal complaint or concern raised by an employee. This is usually regarding their employment conditions, treatment or any perceived injustice or violation of their rights. It provides employees with a mechanism to express dissatisfaction and seek resolution for workplace issues they believe are unfair, discriminatory or contrary to company policies.
Grievances can arise from various situations, including but not limited to:
- Workplace disputes: Conflicts between colleagues, management or teams.
- Discrimination: Allegations of unfair treatment that are based on protected characteristics like age, gender, race, religion and disability.
- Harassment or bullying: Complaints of offensive behaviour, intimidation or mistreatment by colleagues of all levels.
- Contractual disputes: Disputes relating to the terms and conditions of employment, including pay, working hours, benefits or contractual obligations.
- Health and safety concerns: Complaints regarding unsafe working conditions, inadequate equipment or failure to comply with health and safety regulations.
The grievance procedure
When an employee files a grievance, they must follow their employer’s grievance procedure. This process may involve submitting a written complaint outlining the details of the grievance, specifying the desired outcome or resolution and providing any supporting evidence or witnesses. Grievance procedures must be clear and accessible so employees know their rights and how to raise concerns effectively.
Once a grievance is filed, employers must investigate it impartially. They should also make sure the process is conducted fairly and confidentially. This may involve conducting interviews, collecting evidence and consulting relevant parties. The employee who raised the grievance will be allowed to present their case, provide additional information and attend a grievance hearing where their concerns are discussed.
Following the investigation and the hearing, a decision is made by the employer regarding the grievance. The outcome can range from a resolution or settlement to disciplinary action against the accused party, changes in policies or procedures or recommendations for improvement. Employers should communicate the decision and any resulting actions to the employee, providing reasons for the decision.
Resolving grievances effectively is crucial for maintaining a healthy work environment, promoting employee morale and preventing legal disputes. By addressing grievances promptly, employers demonstrate a commitment to fairness, open communication and employee well-being.
What is the difference between a disciplinary and a grievance?
While both disciplinary actions and grievances address issues in the workplace, they differ in their nature, purpose and the parties involved. Understanding the distinctions between disciplinary actions and grievances is crucial for effectively navigating and resolving workplace conflicts.
The employer initiates this if there is misconduct, poor performance or violation of company policies. It focuses on correcting behaviour, enforcing accountability and maintaining organisational standards.
The key points of disciplinary actions are as follows:
- Initiation: Disciplinary actions are typically initiated by the employer or management in response to observed or reported misconduct or performance issues.
- Purpose: The primary purpose of disciplinary actions is to address specific behaviour or performance concerns, rectify them and deter future misconduct. It aims to promote adherence to company policies, rules and standards.
- Decision-making: The decision to impose disciplinary action lies with the employer or management, who evaluate the evidence, conduct investigations and make decisions regarding the appropriate course of action.
- Consequences: Disciplinary actions can range from verbal and written warnings to more severe penalties such as suspension, demotion or, in some cases, termination of employment.
An employee initiates a grievance to express discontent, raise complaints or seek resolution for issues related to their employment, working conditions, or treatment within the organisation. Grievances focus on addressing perceived injustices or violations of rights and ensuring fair treatment.
The key differentiating factors for grievances include:
- Initiation: Grievances are initiated by employees who believe they have been subjected to unfair treatment, discrimination, harassment, contractual disputes or other issues that affect their employment rights or well-being.
- Purpose: The purpose of a grievance is to provide employees with a formal mechanism to voice their concerns, seek redress and resolve issues that they perceive as unjust or in violation of company policies, employment contracts or legal rights.
- Decision-making: In the grievance process, the decision-making authority rests with the employer or a designated grievance panel. They evaluate the complaint, conduct investigations and determine the appropriate action to address the grievance.
- Resolution: The resolution of a grievance can vary depending on the nature of the complaint. It may involve mediation, negotiation, changes in policies or procedures, disciplinary action against the accused party or recommendations for improvement. The aim is to achieve a fair and satisfactory outcome for the employee.
Oftentimes, disciplinary actions and grievances are not mutually exclusive. For example, disciplinary action may be initiated due to a grievance investigation if misconduct is substantiated. Similarly, a grievance may arise in response to perceived unfair disciplinary action. Understanding the distinctions between the two can help employers and employees navigate these processes effectively, ensuring fairness, accountability and resolution of workplace issues.
Who is at risk of receiving a disciplinary or grievance?
In the workplace, various factors can contribute to individuals being at risk of disciplinary action or becoming the subject of a grievance. While these circumstances can vary depending on the specific workplace and industry, several common factors can increase the likelihood of an employee being involved in disciplinary actions or grievances. Understanding these risk factors can help employers and employees proactively address and mitigate potential issues.
Misconduct or policy violation
Employees who consistently engage in misconduct like disruptive behaviour, insubordination, theft, dishonesty or violation of company policies and procedures are likely to receive disciplinary actions.
Poor performance or substandard work
Employees who consistently fail to meet performance expectations, produce substandard work or demonstrate a lack of competence could become the subject of disciplinary actions. Poor performance can range from missed deadlines, errors in work output, repeated quality issues or an inability to fulfil job requirements.
Conflict or disputes
Individuals involved in workplace conflicts, disputes or strained relationships with colleagues, superiors or subordinates are more likely to be at risk of disciplinary actions or grievances. Tensions and unresolved conflicts can escalate, leading to formal disciplinary procedures or grievances being raised.
Discrimination or harassment
Employees with protected characteristics will be more likely to file grievances of harassment and discrimination. Acts of discrimination or harassment can create a hostile work environment and trigger formal complaints.
Breakdowns in communication between employees, teams or management can increase the risk of misunderstandings, conflicts and grievances. When employees feel unheard, undervalued or uninformed, they may resort to filing grievances to address communication-related issues.
Workload and stress
Excessive workloads, unrealistic expectations or high levels of stress can contribute to strained employee-employer relationships and increased risks of grievances or disciplinary actions. When employees feel overwhelmed or unsupported, it can negatively impact their performance and job satisfaction.
Lack of training or guidance
Employees who have not received adequate training, clear expectations or guidance may be at a higher risk of performance-related issues, misunderstandings and subsequent disciplinary actions.
Anyone in the workplace, regardless of their role or position, can be at risk of receiving disciplinary action or becoming involved in a grievance. Employers play a crucial role in mitigating these risks by fostering a positive work culture, providing clear policies and expectations, offering training and support, promoting effective communication and promptly addressing issues as they arise.
Employees can also take proactive steps to reduce their risk of disciplinary actions or grievances by familiarising themselves with company policies, seeking clarification when needed, maintaining professionalism and addressing concerns through appropriate channels before they escalate.
What are some common types of disciplinary actions?
Here are some common types of disciplinary actions employers may implement:
A verbal warning is typically the initial step in the disciplinary process. It involves a private conversation between the employer or supervisor and the employee, where concerns regarding the employee’s behaviour or performance are communicated. Verbal warnings serve as a formal notice of the issue, emphasising the need for improvement and adherence to company policies.
Verbal warnings aim to bring the employee’s attention to the problem, provide an opportunity for self-correction and prevent the issue from escalating. They serve as formal documentation of the employer’s concerns and expectations.
While verbal warnings do not usually have immediate consequences beyond the warning itself, they serve as a clear indication that the employee’s behaviour or performance needs improvement. Repeated instances of misconduct or poor performance can lead to more severe disciplinary actions.
A written warning is a formal written notice that documents the employee’s misconduct, performance deficiencies or policy violations. It outlines the specific concerns, expectations for improvement and potential consequences if the behaviour or performance does not improve within a specified period.
Written warnings provide a stronger formal record of disciplinary action, ensuring clarity and accountability. They communicate the seriousness of the issue and serve as a basis for further action if necessary. Written warnings serve as a formal disciplinary record, which can have implications for future evaluations, promotions or disciplinary measures.
Suspension involves temporarily removing an employee from work, with or without pay, for a specified period. It is imposed as a more severe disciplinary action when misconduct or performance issues persist despite prior warnings.
Suspension aims to emphasise the seriousness of the employee’s behaviour or performance concerns. It provides time for an investigation to take place as well as an opportunity for the employee to reflect. Depending on the issue, it serves as a clear signal that immediate improvement is necessary to continue employment.
Demotion involves a change in the employee’s job title, position or responsibilities, usually accompanied by a reduction in pay or benefits. It serves as a consequence of serious performance or behavioural issues. It is designed to convey that the employee’s previous level of responsibility is no longer appropriate and that they must improve to regain their former position.
Demotion can significantly impact an employee’s career progression, status and earning potential within the organisation. It is intended to motivate improvement and serves as a warning that further disciplinary measures, including termination, may be imposed if the employee fails to address the issues.
Termination, also known as dismissal or firing, is the most severe disciplinary action. It involves the permanent termination of the employee’s employment contract due to persistent misconduct, gross misconduct or failure to meet performance expectations.
Termination is considered a last resort when other disciplinary measures have failed to rectify the employee’s behaviour or performance. There are immediate and significant consequences of termination for the employee. Firstly, it results in the loss of employment, income and benefits. It can have long-lasting effects on the employee’s professional reputation and future job prospects too.
Specific disciplinary actions and their consequences will vary depending on individual company policies, legal requirements and the severity of the situation. Employers should follow fair and consistent procedures, clearly communicate expectations and provide opportunities for employees to address and improve their conduct or performance before escalating disciplinary measures.
Why are disciplinaries and grievances important?
Disciplinaries and grievances play a crucial role in maintaining a fair, productive and harmonious work environment for both employees and employers.
Here are several reasons why disciplinaries and grievances are important:
- They uphold standards and policies.
- They resolve workplace issues.
- They protect employee rights.
- They promote fairness and transparency.
- They prevent legal consequences.
- They contribute to continuous improvement.
How are disciplinary and grievance procedures carried out?
Disciplinary and grievance procedures are carried out through structured processes that ensure fairness, transparency and adherence to legal requirements. While the specific steps and details may vary depending on company policies, here is a general overview of how disciplinary and grievance procedures are typically conducted.
- Informing the employee
- Disciplinary hearing
- Communication and appeal.
- A grievance is lodged
- Grievance hearing
- Implementation of resolution.
What happens after a grievance or disciplinary at work?
After a grievance or disciplinary process at work, several actions and outcomes can unfold based on the specific circumstances and decisions made during the proceedings.
Here is an overview of what typically happens after a grievance or disciplinary at work:
Communication of the outcome
The employer communicates the outcome of the grievance or disciplinary process to the employee involved in writing. Clear and timely communication is essential to ensure transparency and understanding.
Implementation of resolutions or actions
Depending on the nature of the grievance or disciplinary outcome, appropriate actions will be taken to address the issues identified. This might mean disciplinary actions are taken against the employee (e.g., verbal or written warnings, suspension, demotion or termination). Alternatively, if the grievance is upheld, steps are taken to resolve the concerns raised. This could include changes in policies, procedures or work arrangements, training or other measures aimed at rectifying the situation.
Monitoring and review
Following a disciplinary or grievance outcome, employers need to monitor the situation and the employee’s progress. Regular check-ins, performance evaluations or follow-up meetings may be scheduled to ensure compliance with any imposed actions, assess improvements and provide ongoing support or feedback.
In some cases, employees may have the right to appeal the outcome of a disciplinary or grievance process if they believe it to be unfair or unjust. This involves a review of the decision by an independent body or a designated person who was not involved in the initial proceedings. Employees must follow the appeals procedure outlined by the organisation within the specified timeframe.
Resolution and closure
Once the outcome is communicated, any necessary actions are implemented and the appeals process, if applicable, is completed, the grievance or disciplinary process is considered resolved. Both the employer and employee should strive for closure and move forward with a focus on maintaining a positive work environment.
Employers often use disciplinary and grievance cases as opportunities for reflection and improvement. They analyse trends, patterns or systemic issues that may have contributed to the situation. Lessons learned from these experiences can inform updates to policies, procedures, training or management practices, aiming to prevent similar issues from occurring in the future.
Employers must maintain confidentiality and professionalism throughout the process and the employee’s privacy needs to be respected. Additionally, organisations should create a supportive and inclusive work culture that encourages open communication, conflict resolution and learning from disciplinary and grievance cases to foster a positive work environment.
Final thoughts on disciplinaries and grievance procedures
In conclusion, disciplinary actions and grievances are critical components of a fair and functional work environment. By addressing misconduct, poor performance and employee concerns, these processes promote accountability, protect rights and contribute to a culture of transparency and respect. The outcomes of disciplinary actions and grievances lead to resolutions, improvements and, ultimately, the restoration of harmony in the workplace. By valuing the importance of these procedures, organisations can foster a positive work environment where employees feel heard, supported and motivated to thrive.