Nobody likes a grievance. Neither the person who files nor the person who receives a complaint sees it as a good thing. However, properly handled, grievances can provide opportunities to identify and solve problems in the workplace.
But grievances need to be properly addressed, investigated and resolved to become a positive force for change. Unfortunately, grievances are often mishandled, leaving the employee upset or angry and the company at risk for a lawsuit.
Investigating Grievances“Grievances must be documented properly so that they can be properly investigated,” says attorney Alix Rubin, founder of Alix Rubin Law, LLC. “A proper investigation serves several important purposes,” she says. “First, it increases morale and productivity by sending the message that you care about your employees and their working conditions. Second, it helps to enforce your workplace policies and eradicate inappropriate behavior. Third, it serves as an affirmative defense, thereby limiting the company’s liability should the grievant sue the company.”
Documentation is an important part of the investigation process. “It is important to document dates and timelines so that you can assess the grievant’s and other witnesses’ credibility and determine whether the conduct complained of can be corroborated,” says Rubin. “In addition, dates and timelines will allow you to show that you investigated promptly and took prompt remedial action, if warranted.”
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Most grievance procedures require that a grievance be filed within a certain number of days from the date that the employee or union knew or ought to have known of the underlying event. And some collective agreements require an employer to take disciplinary action within a fixed number of days of learning of the cause for discipline. Because missing either of these time limits can be fatal to the party’s position, it is essential that these dates are noted and are provable.
By using grievance tracking software to record and manage grievances, companies can reduce the risk that the process will derail or that important events will fall through the cracks. Using a software solution allows employers to set deadlines, reminders and alerts that ensure important dates are flagged.
“It is important to document dates and timelines so that you can assess the grievant’s and other witnesses’ credibility and determine whether the conduct complained of can be corroborated,” says Rubin. “In addition, dates and timelines will allow you to show that you investigated promptly and took prompt remedial action, if warranted.”
“Most (if not all) collective bargaining agreements have timelines for processing grievances,” says Scott Barer, a California labor and employment attorney. “This means that within X days after the alleged violation of the contract, the employee must file the grievance. Then, within A days of the grievance filing, the employer must respond. And so on and so on.
“Sometimes the employer and union agree to waive the deadlines, but other times they are strictly enforced,” says Barer. “In situations where one side or the other is demanding strict compliance with the deadlines, it is important that there be clear and unequivocal documentation that deadlines have been met,” he says.
“Failure to comply with a deadline could jeopardize a party’s position in the arbitration,” says Barer. “Showing compliance with deadlines with clear and unequivocal documentation avoids that problem.”
Using grievance tracking software to manage the grievance process means that all dates and actions are documented and provable, should the need arise. It’s the easiest way to ensure nothing falls through the cracks and the best way to turn a grievance into an opportunity for improvement.