Unfairly Dismissed British Royal Legion Employee Wins Tribunal Case
This month saw a claim for constructive dismissal being brought against the Royal British Legion after one of their case officers, Carolyn Bickerstaff, claimed she was bullied by her line manager, Mr. France, and unfairly treated by the HR department. When Miss Bickerstaff voiced concerns over workload, she was given an unsupportive response from her manager that led her to confidentially email the HR department.
This email was then shared with the manager and resulted in a ‘confrontational and aggressive’ meeting, after which Miss Bickerstaff was signed off with work-related stress. She returned on the condition that she would no longer be managed by France but when she voiced an unease than blank, signed cheques were being left in an unlocked cupboard, she was prohibited from attending her place of work until the grievance was resolved.
Because of the treatment of Miss Bickerstaff, the tribunal found that there was such a breach of confidence and trust that she felt compelled to resign. A hearing to discuss the damages she will be awarded is being scheduled.
Whether you’re a HR professional, a manager, or the owner of a business, there’s no escaping the fact that sometimes employees are unhappy at work and it’s your job to make sure they can communicate their concerns in a fair and safe environment.
There are a lot of lessons that can be taken away from this case study but the main one is that the way you handle a grievance can have a significant impact on whether the issue is resolved internally or may be taken to employment tribunal. Not all grievances have to escalate to litigation, so starting off on the right foot is especially important.
Whilst it can be hard to juggle other responsibilities and remain supportive to the needs of the individual, when an employee raises a concern or issue with their working environment it should always be met with an understanding attitude. If you’re unsure of how to proceed, follow these four steps – acknowledge, investigate, decide, act. This will make sure your employee doesn’t feel unheard and also allow you time to come up with a solution that works best for everyone.
Refer to your grievance policy and ensure you stick to it. One of the biggest deciders in cases that reach employment tribunal is whether the company showed a disregard for their set procedure. Keeping in line with the policy will help clarify the next steps you need to take, ensuring a smooth and well organised process, and can also benefit the company-employee relationship by strengthening trust.
Always appoint an impartial person to deal with the grievance. This might be hard for smaller companies but, as we see in the British Royal Legion Case, appointing a manager who has a personal stake in the complaint can lead to heated conversations, rather than resolution. The same goes for HR departments, who need to maintain any requested confidentiality and do their best to remove the potential for individual bias from the process. If this isn’t feasible, consider bringing in an external HR company to oversee the grievance procedure as this will remove the impact of personal allegiances and feelings.
Unfortunately, there are occasions when nothing can be done to prevent a grievance from ending with an employment tribunal but by following these simple steps, you can reduce the possibility of this happening and provide yourself with a solid defence against any appeals or litigation.
If you are currently dealing with a grievance or would like more information, please contact us on 01522 370190.