The Grievance Hearing
After raising a grievance, there is likely to be a grievance hearing, which may also be referred to as a grievance meeting. This is a formal meeting to discuss your grievance with your employer and may form the basis of your employer’s decision.
Attending such meetings can be difficult, making it important that you are well prepared and act appropriately, giving you the best chance that your points are listened to and acted upon.
We provide general guidance on attending formal meetings here.
We routinely help and advise people going through issues at work, such as grievances, providing advice and helping them negotiate if necessary.
The Initial Meeting
After receiving your grievance, which was hopefully set out in writing and following our guidance here, your employer may invite you to an initial meeting, sometimes referred to as a grievance investigation meeting.
As this is not the actual grievance hearing, there is no formal right to be accompanied, but many employers will allow you to be accompanied, so if you would prefer to attend with someone, just ask. At the grievance hearing, you have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or colleague.
During any initial meeting, the employer is likely to ask questions to clarify the basis of your grievance, so use the opportunity to make sure your grievance is fully understood.
It is also a good opportunity for you to understand the process to be followed, including what evidence will be used and if witnesses will be interviewed.
If you have collated your evidence already, provide a copy to the person dealing with the grievance (the grievance officer) and explain its relevance.
If you made the grievance anonymously and would prefer to keep it that way, raise it at this initial meeting and certainly in advance of the grievance hearing. You can discuss with the grievance officer if this is practical or not. If your identity will be obvious to people questioned in relation to the grievance, you may have to accept that keeping your identity anonymous is not feasible.
The Grievance Investigation
After receiving your grievance and before the grievance hearing takes place, your employer may start to investigate your complaints.
It is best to cooperate and assist the investigation.
If you are absent for any reason, still do your best. If you need any assistance or requirement to provide information or answer questions in a different way, make that clear and explain why.
If other people are being interviewed, ask to see the notes so you can provide comment. If you disagree with what is being said, keep a record and include a note of why this is incorrect and collate any evidence you have to support your version. This is more effective than simply accusing the witness of being wrong or lying.
Some employers will permit you to question witnesses yourself, but this is rare. They may permit you to put questions to a witness in writing. If you think this would be usueful, then ask. It is normal for people to have different versions of events or for people accused wrongdoing to deny it, so expect this.
Preparing for the Grievance Hearing
Before attending the grievance hearing it is important to be prepared.
Check if you are permitted to call your own witnesses, but either way, it may be preferable to get a written statement from witnesses in advance. This will allow you to check and understand what they are going to say before the grievance hearing. Your witnesses may be reluctant to attend and speak on your behalf, but they may be more willing to provide a written statement.
Some other guidance on how to prepare is:
- Read your written grievance again and get familiar with it. Take a copy with you to the grievance hearing.
- Make sure you understand your complaints and the relevant timeline of events.
- Collate your evidence in advance and place it in date order. Create copies and provide this to the grievance officer in advance or at least at the grievance hearing. Keep copies for yourself (however, when collating evidence for yourself, be careful not to breach any internal policies, such as emailing work emails/documents to your personal email).
- Link the evidence to the relevant complaint (which are hopefully numbered) and make sure you can explain its relevance.
- If you want to be accompanied, make the necessary arrangements in advance.
- If you want to be accompanied by someone other than a trade union representative or colleague, make this request early and explain why. Your employer may agree to the request, but it is best get the decision in advance.
- Have a conversation with the person accompanying you and make sure you both understand the process and each of your roles. If you want support in a specific way (such as them taking notes) then discuss this with them.
- Get clear on how notes are to be taken at the grievance hearing. It is becoming more common for meetings to be recorded and a written transcript to be provided, as it can be done relatively cheaply and prevents a dispute.
At The Grievance Hearing
The employer is likely to have a note taker present. If you are being accompanied, we suggest you agree in advance who is to take your notes. Getting an accurate record of the meeting is important, but taking an accurate note whilst participating in a meeting is difficult.
If there is a note taker present for your employer, it may be easier to check they have made an accurate note instead.
However, if something important arises during the meeting, it makes sense to note this down yourself, but if you can, keep your own record of what was said.
In advance, check the company policy on note taking and recording meetings.
It may be easier for both sides if the meeting is recorded so an accurate note can be taken. If you want the meeting recorded using an audio device (many smart phones have this capability) raise this in advance if possible. It may be easier to get this agreed in advance and not at the start of the hearing.
If this is not possible, discuss this at the outset of the hearing and explain why you feel it is necessary.
If you covertly record a meeting, this may be a disciplinary issue.
Covert recordings can cause issues, so caution is required. We do not recommend you covertly record the grievance hearing. However, if you record something important that your employer later denies / is not visible in the formal notes, this can be useful. Tribunals are often willing to listen to covert recordings of meetings (this is not the same as a planted device, that records others whilst you are not present, which are unlikely to be used).
Conducting the Meeting
The conduct of the meeting is likely to be led by the grievance officer.
It is important to listen carefully and answer all questions honestly.
Even if you fear the outcome is pre-determined, it is best to attend with an open mind and with the belief the grievance hearing is genuine and fair.
The benefit of this mindset is that your participation in the grievance hearing will be more effective. If the grievance hearing is held on genuine grounds, then you will be more persuasive, and your version will be understood. This increases the likelihood of the grievance going in your favour.
If the meeting is pre-determined and conducted as a box-ticking exercise, then you will be reflected much more positively in the meeting minutes/recording, which may be important at a later stage.
Some common mistakes we see are:
- Individuals avoid attending all formal meetings. If you fail to participate in the process, the Company may be able to use this against you, for example, by twisting the narrative and suggesting the issues were created/made worse by your failure to attend meetings / be cooperative. It is also difficult to genuinely progress a grievance if the person that raised the grievance refuses to attend meetings or participate in the process.
- If you are signed off, get advice from your GP on how you can still participate. You may be able to do so in writing, which can be less stressful. If attending the formal grievance hearing in-person is not advised by your GP, then this can be added to your sick certificate and will reduce any criticism that you are failing to participate in the process.
- Individuals attend meetings and their comments focus on why they feel the process is unfair and unjust. At a grievance hearing, your focus should be on the complaints you raised, which we suggest you address in turn, and not some minor deviations from the company grievance policy (you should list all the procedural issues as they may be needed for an appeal).
- Not being clear on the outcome requested. The grievance officer may ask you what resolution you are looking for. It is important to have this is mind and explain what it is and why it is being asked for. We do not recommend you refer to lawyers or making Tribunal claims or anything that comes across as a threat.
At the end of the meeting, ask the grievance officer when the outcome can be expected and note their answer.
How to Make a Counter Offer
The next step is to make your counteroffer.
We suggest this is done in writing, either via a letter or email.
We often send a “without prejudice” letter and then default to email. The without prejudice rule means that if a statement (oral or in writing) is made in a genuine attempt to settle an existing dispute, it cannot then be used as evidence in a court or tribunal (the idea is to give potential parties to litigation an opportunity to settle out of court).
Some key points when making a counteroffer are:
- Apply rationale to what you are asking for. The offer needs to be “pegged” to something, otherwise, it will appear you are just plucking it out of thin air.
- Be sensible. The biggest mistake we see is people asking for too much which prejudices the negotiation because the other side does not see the sense in negotiating. You want to bring the other side to the table and not run for the hills.
- Don’t short-change yourself. Equally, you do not want to ask for too little, the opening offer needs to be pitched correctly, which varies depending on the situation. This is where a Settlement Agreement Specialist will really help you.
- Consider non-financial matters and address them (for example, a reference and any restrictive covenants in your contract).
- Consider the termination date (the date the employment is to end) and if you are to work your notice or not.
- Don’t be scared to ask questions. If there are points you do not understand, ask for clarification. Getting more perspective can help progress the negotiation.
After the Hearing
After the hearing, check your notes immediately and make sure they are accurate.
If anything important was said, make sure it was featured in the notes/recording.
If the employer sends you notes to comment on, make sure you do this quickly. We often have clients that allege the grievance hearing notes were inaccurate, but they failed to say what was missing at the time, when they were sent the notes by their employer shortly after he grievance hearing ended.
You now have to wait for the grievance outcome, which should be sent in writing.
Attending any formal meeting at work can be difficult.
If you are having serious issues at work and are considering raising a grievance or have a grievance hearing coming up, this is usually a strong indication that professional assistance is required.
If you need help with a settlement agreement, please contact Blair for a free and no-obligation discussion.
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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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