Avoid Making These 7 Common Grievance Process Mistakes

Your grievance procedure can make the difference between making a tough situation better or making it much worse. Avoid making these missteps.

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Avoid Making These 7 Common Grievance Process Mistakes

Here's what you need to know:

  • Grievance process mistakes to avoid include not escalating an issue quickly enough and escalating it too quickly
  • Avoid jumping to conclusions before you have all the information and avoid sharing grievance details outside of those involved
  • Other mistakes to avoid include taking too long to reach a resolution, not following internal grievance procedures, and not handing off the procedure to a trained investigator when necessary

No matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone. The same goes for work. Even if you do everything that it seems like you can to keep your employees happy, engaged, and satisfied, complaints will still crop up.

Grievances are simply an unavoidable part of running a business. While you can’t control grievances, you can control the grievance process that surrounds them.

No one likes to think about things going wrong, but they do. Every business big and small has to have a process for adequately, appropriately, and fairly dealing with employee complaints.

Not only does having a functioning grievance process protect your company from potential liabilities, it is critical for running a workplace with as little drama as possible.

Your grievance process can make the difference between making a tough situation better or making it much worse. Yet, making mistakes is common and grievance processes are no exception.

7 grievance process mistakes employers should avoid

Here are some common grievance process mistakes that employers make. With common mistakes identified, you can work to avoid them. Your company’s grievance process will be stronger for it.

Not escalating an issue quickly enough

It’s certainly essential to take your time and gather all of the information you need. But sometimes, when the issue or allegation is particularly serious (think sexual harassment and illegal activity), then escalation might need to take place immediately.

Serious issues and allegations are often best handled by an outside investigator and may need to be reported to law enforcement, too.

Serious issues and allegations are often best handled by an outside investigator and may need to be reported to law enforcement, too.

If something extremely serious comes across your desk, be sure to escalate it to the necessary authorities in a timely manner. This can be an important move to make in order to ensure that the company isn’t accused of sitting on a serious issue.

Escalating an issue too quickly

Yes, it’s confusing to say that both not escalating fast enough and escalating too quickly are both problems.

But the truth is that they are. It’s essential that HR personnel — or anyone tasked with handling grievances — knows how to parse extremely serious grievances from the rest.

Outside of a grievance that needs to be escalated immediately, it’s important that you’re judicious with your time. This way you can escalate an issue and the appropriate time and with the appropriate information.

If you escalate a grievance too quickly before you have all the information you need, you can end up creating issues for someone based on allegations that turn out to be untrue.

Part of any grievance process — outside of escalating serious issues — should be seeing if the problem can be taken care of more immediately.

Ask employees what they hope to get out of the situation. Sometimes people only want a simple solution to their issue in the form of an apology.

Sometimes people just want to vent and will feel better afterwards. You’re there to get the complaint to the best possible solution as quickly as possible. Asking the complainant how they’d like to see the process resolved can help you get there.

Jumping to conclusions before you have all the information

No matter who is involved or what happened, it’s important to keep an open mind until you have all the necessary information to make a determination. Wait to make any decisions or draw any conclusions until all of the interviews have taken place and the investigation is complete.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat serious allegations seriously. You absolutely should. But don’t draw any conclusions, make decisions, or determine courses of action until you have all the facts.

This goes both ways. If you get a complaint from an employee who is notoriously difficult, you still have to take their allegations seriously. If it turns out that they were made up, that’s when you deal with that issue.

Sharing grievance details outside of those involved

No one wants their dirty laundry aired, especially to their coworkers who they have to see every day and work with in the future.

It’s crucial that you handle all grievances and any associated investigations with discretion. Never share details outside of the involved and need-to-know parties, even with people who you’re friends with at work.

Only disclose the necessary details to the necessary people. Don’t share any more information (sometimes this includes who made the grievance) unless you have to. If you have to discuss details with others for investigative reasons, be clear that the discussion is confidential.

Not handing off the procedure to a trained investigator when necessary

Most HR professionals or those in leadership positions can handle run-of-the-mill workplace grievances. But when it comes to the more serious and complicated complaints and allegations, it’s best to get trained help.

One option is to hire an external investigator. When an allegation has to do with senior officials or the business itself, it’s crucial that you bring someone on to conduct an unbiased investigation.

But there are plenty of instances when internal trained investigators are right for the job. If no one at your company fits this bill, consider putting 1 or 2 people through grievance and disciplinary training.

Getting people trained to do this kind of work might not seem important now. However, when serious grievances come up you’ll be very happy that you made that investment.

Taking too long to get to a resolution

Everyone has a ton to do. Work doesn’t stop because someone filed a grievance. But it’s important to prioritize grievances when they come across your desk.

Delays in the process can lead employees to think that you don’t take their complaints seriously. Delays can also land the company in hot water when it comes to serious issues.

Besides working as quickly as is reasonably possible, communicate about the timeline early, often, and frequently. This way, involved parties know that things are moving along even if it sometimes seems like they aren’t.

Be honest and transparent about how long things will take and what the process could involve. The more people know about what to expect, the less likely they are to feel like the process is failing them.

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Not following internal grievance procedures

Make sure that anyone in your company who deals with grievances knows that they’re required to follow your internal grievance procedures. The procedures are there for a reason (chiefly to protect everyone involved, including the company). So, explain why that’s the case so they understand why it’s important to follow them.

Think about it this way: Imagine you’ve filed a grievance, it was botched somehow, and you came to find out that the person handling your grievance didn’t even follow the company procedure.

Not only could this be a legal liability for the company, it can pretty quickly lead to people losing faith in your company and its professional abilities.

Grievance processes are serious business. They can be complex, which is why some people — especially those who are wearing multiple hats at small businesses — can be tempted to overlook them. But you’d be doing yourself and your company a disservice if that’s the way you go.

It’s important to have a grievance process in place and outlined in your employee handbook. But even if you haven’t gotten there yet, avoiding these common mistakes will at least put some bumpers in place to help you stay on the right track.

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