Dealing with grievances about fellow employees

Last updated: September 19th, 2022

First published: November 4th, 2020

Last updated: September 16th, 2022

Dealing with grievances about fellow employees

‘Grievance’ is a catchall term in employment law in Ireland that captures staff concerns, problems, or complaints.

While there’s no statutory definition of grievance, a grievance is an employee complaint that is not always a bullying or harassment issue.

If an employee feels that they are treated less favourably, they can seek to file a grievance.

It can be a difficult scenario for employers when a staff member makes a complaint about a colleague. One of the many workplace side-effects of the pandemic was a noticeable spike in complaints involving employees who were anxious about their colleagues failures to adhere to COVID-19 protocols.

Whether it’s a health & safety issue or more often than not, an interpersonal issue, there are some key areas to bear in mind when handling these types of complaints.

Check your grievance policy

There is in fact no legal obligation for employers to have written grievance procedures. However, it is good practice to have a policy or clearly written procedure that employees can rely on if they have a complaint.

If you don’t have a policy in place, you can refer to the Workplace Relations Commission’s Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures for guidance. Do note that the Code of Practice sets out general guidelines only. Your own policy should be tailored to the needs of your organisation.

The Code of Practice sets out the following requirements:

  • That employee grievances are fairly examined and processed.
  • That details of any allegations or complaints are communicated to the employee concerned.
  • That the employee concerned is allowed to respond fully to any such allegations.
  • That the employee concerned is given the opportunity to avail of the right to have representation.
  • That the employee concerned has the right to a fair and impartial determination of the issues.
  • That an internal appeal mechanism is available.

A grievance process at work typically involves three stages:

  • Receipt of the employee’s complaint.
  • A thorough investigation of the matter.
  • A formal hearing.

The hearing grants the employee an opportunity to discuss their concerns. Fair procedures dictate that the employee should have a right to reply to any evidence revealed by the investigation.

See if an informal resolution can resolve the employee grievance

If an employee raises a grievance about a fellow employee, speak to the employee in private first. It may be a situation that you can find a resolution to without beginning a formal grievance procedure.

If one employee’s conduct is offending another, an informal word in private with the employees in question may be enough to resolve the situation.

Explain the formal grievance procedure

If the allegation is too serious to resolve informally, organise a follow-up meeting. This should include the employee making the allegation to discuss the situation.

Advise them of the steps in a formal grievance procedure at this point.

If the employee intends to pursue a formal grievance procedure, you should ask the employee to set out the details in writing. The investigation and hearing of the complaint should follow without undue delay.

Explaining the appeal process

If the employee is not satisfied with the outcome of the formal grievance procedure, notify them in writing of their right to appeal.

Arrange the appeal hearing without unreasonable delay. A more senior manager should hear the appeal (or someone who was not involved in the first hearing to demonstrate impartiality).

Consider mediation

If disputes between colleagues prove particularly difficult to resolve, seek external assistance. External independent mediators can help at any stage in the grievance process.

When both parties agree to enter a mediation process, it is possible to suspend the grievance process pending the outcome of mediation.

If in doubt, seek expert assistance

It’s important to ensure that employees grievances are managed appropriately. If you can resolve grievances efficiently, this will give your staff confidence that you are a responsive employer who takes employee concerns seriously.

For expert advice on handling grievances from one of our HR consultants, call 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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Nora Cashe

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Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

Nora has extensive experience representing clients at Employment Tribunal hearings, Conciliation / Mediation meetings before both the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. 

Nóra is a member of the Irish Employment Law Association and engages with the WRC Adjudication Service as part of their stakeholder engagement forum.

Deiric McCann

Genos International Europe

Deiric McCann leads Genos International Europe – The EU division of a world-leading provider of emotional intelligence solutions. 

With over two decades experience at the highest levels of management, Deiric supports clients to develop the resilience, emotional intelligence, psychological safety and engagements of their employees.

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David Begg

Workplace Relations Commission

David Begg was appointed Chairperson of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in January 2021.

David is also a professor at Maynooth University Institute of Social Sciences. Mr Begg’s extensive history in the trade union movement included leading the ESB Officers Association and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, stepping away from the latter in 2001 to chair international aid agency Concern.

David Begg was also previously a director of the Central Bank of Ireland between 1995 and 2010.