01 December 2006

Disciplinary and grievance procedures - impact of legislation on employers

Andrew Lightburn, employment lawyer at Shulmans solicitors, says that legislation relating to disciplinary and grievance procedures – introduced in October 2004 – is still causing a lot of problems for employers.

The law specified the minimum procedures employers must now follow for grievances and disciplinary procedures.

At a very minimum, the employer has to ensure the grievance or dismissal issue is written down, there is a meeting to discuss the issue and the employee is told they have a right to appeal and who to appeal to. 

Andrew Lightburn said: “It is extraordinary how many employers are either not aware of the process or are just blatantly ignoring it.

“There are also some grey areas emerging as to what is or is not a grievance. Sometimes an employee can say, or send an email saying, they are miffed or irritated about something and the employer does not realise this is being used – or could be used – as a grievance.”

Lightburn points out that the employer must take any comment or email seriously and ask, in writing, 'do you want to treat this as a grievance?'. If the answer is yes, then they must follow up properly. They must hold a meeting and explain about right to appeal.

Lightburn added: “If either side does not follow the procedures properly then compensation can be increased or reduced depending on whether it is the employee or employer at fault. If the employer misses any stage of the procedure – such as holding a meeting – then the dismissal automatically becomes unfair.”

There has been considerable coverage about the new age discrimination laws, but how are these working in practice?

Lightburn says there have been changes in how people word job advertisements, but some people are still leaving themselves open to prosecution.

He gives an example: “Reaction to the legislation has been slow. While most job advertisements have now stopped using words such as dynamic, junior, enthusiastic, experienced or mature, there are still some referring to the experience needed.

“If an employer rejects a candidate, words related to experience leave them at risk of being taken to tribunal on the basis that the candidate was rejected because of their age or level of experience rather than ability to do the job.”

He says that employers need to talk about levels of salary and the details of the role they want covered. Instead of talking about experience needed, the advertisement should refer to ability to undertake a specific complexity of work.