6 easy steps to build a successful grievance procedure

A grievance meaning, in ordinary language, refers to any form of workplace dissatisfaction that you may have as an employee with your employer, manager, or fellow employee that needs to be addressed by the management.

Workplace grievances and staff complaints need time, care and good record keeping. A grievance can concern an employee’s role, their workplace or even another member of staff.

It is important to note that this process does not deal with issues related to compensation issues, unfair labour practices, demands for other benefits, or as an appeal mechanism following a disciplinary hearing.

Whether you’re an HR professional, an office manager or the owner of the business, your aim in dealing with the grievance is to resolve the issue quickly and effectively.

To ensure that your employee gets a fair hearing and outcome – and avoid lengthy and costly employee tribunals –  here are 5 ways to deal with a workplace grievance.

What are the steps in the grievance procedure?

What is a formal grievance procedure? The following 5 steps of grievance procedure are the guidelines you can use when you have a complaint or when dissatisfied. According to the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, everyone has a right to fairness at work. A well-established grievance procedure for an organization should be able to handle issues without escalation.

1. Bring the grievance to your immediate supervisor

The first step of the grievance procedure South Africa is an informal resolution with your immediate supervisor. As we all know, there is no need to escalate issues to higher authorities without trying to sort them at the lowest point first, and this also avoids insubordination issues. Usually, most companies train their supervisors and managers to deal with the common work issues in a fair and unbiased manner. At this stage, the supervisor should do all that he or she can to resolve the issue within 3 working days.

This step is also applicable if the supervisor is the source of the problem. For example, you may feel that you are getting picked on by the supervisor or that you are being treated unfairly. In that case, it is important to have a dialogue and try to get a resolution.

2. Escalate the complaint to the direct report of the supervisor

If the supervisor cannot handle the issue, he or she may take the complaint informally to someone above, such as a line manager. This can also be done formally (although not mandatory) by filling the grievance form, and the issue should be addressed within 10 working days.

3. Consider mediation

  • When mediation is the first step in resolving a grievance. The first step should be an informal dialogue between the aggrieved employee and the immediate supervisor. If the complaint involves another employee, then the two employees should dialogue first preferably in the presence of the supervisor.
  • When a manager turns to mediation in order to avoid handling a grievance. This especially becomes an issue when the complaint requires an investigation or a final decision about what is right or wrong. In these cases, mediation should be avoided.
  • When neither of the parties has the authority to resolve the grievance. Usually, a mediator is brought in for two parties that have the power to settle the matter.
  • When mediation will bring about unrealistic expectations.

4. Escalate the issue to the HR department if the above fails At this stage, all informality is cast aside and the first step of the official channels is invoked. Here, the employee has to write a grievance letter or fill a grievance form and submit it to the HR department. According to the SA law on grievance procedure under the labour laws, the employee has to write this letter within 90 days from the time when the employee became aware of the grievance. This means that any alternative steps that are taken toward a resolution have to be closed within that period.

Once the complaint is lodged, the HR and the employer have 30 days to come up with a resolution with the employee. This time period can be extended if the parties come to a mutual agreement (in writing of course) that they should extend the time frame.

5. Consider appealing at a higher level in case none of the above solutions work 

This is the highest avenue for resolution. If all the other procedures fail, then the employee can go to a higher external grievance body such as the Council for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA). It is important to include a time limit in each of the steps above so that the issue is resolved within a reasonable period. At any stage of the grievance process, the employee is entitled to have representation during all situations to help present the case of the dissatisfied party. The representation can be a fellow employee, an official from your trade union, or anyone else who is properly certified. In the event that the employee does not have access to any of the three parties, the worker can request to bring a different companion to a certain case. Keep in mind that the employer would be well within their rights to deny this request.

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