By Isaac Chan

Nearly every employer has had to dealt with a workplace grievance before, but what happens when the complaint is something serious or the employee has decided to formalise it? We have answered that very question for you and simplified the steps that you need to take to ensure a smooth and compliant investigation process.

Grievance policy

As a starting base, it’s best practice to have a ‘Grievance Policy’ in place within the business and to make sure your employees are aware of the policy and its content. This ensures that there is a structured approach for employees as to how to raise a formal grievance and a procedure in place as to how the business will address that grievance.

Investigating a grievance

If there is a formal grievance raised by an employee within the workplace then there is an obligation to investigate the grievance. While it may be burdensome, and you may already have your own opinions about the matter, it is still best to be investigate the grievance and be completely satisfied that the allegations cannot be substantiated.

When investigating a grievance, the typical approach is to firstly return to the employee who raised the grievance to further understand their allegations and get any further background information about the matter. From there you may need to interview other employees, review any internal communications such as emails or even review surveillance footage if necessary. Once you have covered all bases, it is then appropriate to discuss the allegations with the person who has been complained about.

Depending on the nature of the allegations, it may be necessary to give the employee an opportunity to respond in writing first or at the very least provide them an invitation which outlines the nature of the meeting and the allegations which have been raised.

When you conduct the meeting with the employee you would essentially be bringing the allegations to their attention and if you had received a response in writing to the allegations, further discussing these responses and determining whether there is any further information they would like to add.

Depending on the seriousness of the grievance, it may be necessary to suspend the employee while you are conducting the investigation. If a business deems it necessary to suspend an employee, you need to ensure that the employee is still on full pay while the grievance is being investigated as the allegations have not yet been substantiated.

Deciding on an outcome

Once you have conducted the investigation and spoken to all of the relevant parties, it’s then time to make a decision as to whether the allegations can be substantiated or not. If multiple allegations have been raised you may find that some are substantiated and some are not.

To determine this you will consider all of the evidence you have on hand and determine on the  balance of probabilities whether or not the allegations are true and can be substantiated. While this may sound like some legal jargon, this essentially means determining whether the employee more likely than not engaged in the conduct.

If you don’t believe on a balance of probabilities that the conduct can be substantiated, then this essentially means you would communicate this to the employees concerned as such and no disciplinary action would be taken. This may be a difficult conversation to have with the employee who raised the grievance, so it’s important to have further discussions with the employee to see if there is anything you can do to help them, this could include a mediation process with both the employees to help them rebuild trust and friendship.

If you however do find that the allegations made are true and you have substantiated them, you will have to consider what action, if any, you choose to take. This could include a verbal or written warning or even termination in more serious cases. It’s important to keep in mind though that termination can carry significant risk to your business, so you should also consult a professional before proceeding with that process.

Isaac Chan is an experienced workplace relations consultant at FCB Group and HR Assured Australia. Isaac regularly handles complex workplace issues for all kinds of businesses, from start-ups to enterprise-level.