How to Address Concerns at Work
There are various ways to address problems at work.
What approach you take will vary depending on the kind of problem, the type/size of business you work in, and also (importantly) what you are trying to achieve.
Most people forget to think about the outcome they want to achieve.
The most common ways to tack problems at work are:
- Talk to the relevant colleague or your manager.
- Write to the relevant colleague or your manager (usually an email).
- Arrange an initial meeting with the relevant colleague, manager or HR.
- Raising a grievance.
- Without Prejudice communications.
A general rule is, if you want to stay at the business, you try and resolve the issue informally and then formally (if needed) by raising a grievance.
If you want to leave the business, you start formally with “without prejudice” communications and see if you can agree exit terms. If not, you may then continue with the more formal approach and raise a grievance.
The Informal Approach
If you like your job and want to stay there, it makes sense to try and resolve issues informally (yet still professionally) in the first instance. This will (all going well) be quicker and help maintain good working relationships.
Lots of companies (particularly larger ones) have written processes on how to deal with issues. Check if these are in place and follow them, they are there for a reason.
If the informal approach does not work, you may then consider raising a formal grievance.
The Formal Approach
As touched on above, a general rule is, if you want to leave a business, start with “without prejudice” communications, and you may then decide to use a grievance depending on how the negotiation progresses (the exact tactics deployed can vary and is something an experienced professional can help with).
However, if you want to remain in the business, and the informal process has not worked, you may then decide to raise a grievance, which is often a much more formal process (as stated, check for a written internal process on how to raise a grievance.)
When raising matters formally, it is best to go into the process with an open mind, making a genuine attempt to resolve the problem. There is little downside to this approach, even if you think your grievance will not be successful, because if you are wrong on this (you will solve the issue) but if not, you will have acted appropriately and be reflected more positivity in the documents (grievance documents are often evidence in employment tribunal claims).
When raising a grievance, it is important to clearly (and succinctly) set out (1) what the problem is and (2) what you want to happen to resolve the issue. If you have relevant information supporting your position, provide it.
All too often, people raise a grievance will long narratives that are difficult to follow, and even though they produce multiple pages of text, they fail to say what is required to fix the problem or send any information in support of their position.
Without Prejudice Communications
If the without prejudice rule applies, it prevents the relevant material from being put before a court as evidence (including an employment tribunal), thus making the material “inadmissible.”
For the without prejudice rule to apply, the statement (whether made orally or in writing) must be a genuine attempt to settle an existing dispute.
The rule is in place to give parties an opportunity to resolve disputes and communicate freely on this subject.
Good practice when using the without prejudice rule is:
- Clearly mark the communications (or say it, if done orally) as being “without prejudice.”
- Make sure there is an existing dispute. If the other side do not think there is, they may argue the without prejudice rule does not apply.
- Make sure there is a genuine attempt to settle.
- Keep without prejudice communications separate from other documents. For example, do not add a without prejudice section at the end of a written grievance.
It is important to note, simply marking a document “without prejudice” does not mean the rule will apply. If the communication was not a genuine attempt to settle an existing dispute, it is likely to be admissible (meaning it can be used as evidence).
The same applies if you omit to mark a document as without prejudice, the presence or absence of the “WP” label is not determinative.
How best to use without prejudice communications is complex. If you want to negotiate an exit, it is prudent to take professional advice.
A general approach is to start with without prejudice communications, but if you cannot agree exit terms, or you want to progress the negotiation, you can then (separately):
- Raise a grievance.
- Make a data subject access request.
- Start Early Acas Conciliation.
- Present a claim.
Please be aware employment law claims have strict time limits (often 3 calendar months less 1-day from the act complained of). In most cases, you must complete an Early Acas Notification form within the 3 months less 1-day time limit before making an employment tribunal claim.
This blog is for information purposes only. Nothing should be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice and nothing written should be construed as legal advice or perceived as creating a lawyer-client relationship.
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