What are my rights if a work colleague has raised a grievance against me?
All employees have a right to raise a grievance in the workplace and for this to be investigated and ideally resolved. Sometimes however people, often those in managerial positions, find themselves the subject of a malicious or false grievance.
Even if you immediately suspect that such a grievance has been made in bad faith and is untrue, an employer still has a duty to investigate and go through the same formal investigation route as with others. Having advised clients in situations like this I have seen how stressful and unsettling this can be. There is also of course uncertainty about the potential harm it could cause to your career and reputation.
Even if there is no merit to the allegations made, you can find yourself embroiled in a tricky web of ‘he said she said’. Allegations of dishonesty, discrimination or harassment can be even more concerning and reputation management is crucial. Those in regulated sectors such as financial, healthcare and legal services or at director level have even more at stake.
Here are five things to remember if you find yourself in this situation:
Ensure your version of events is clear and documented where possible.
You should be given a copy of the grievance or at least the parts that relate directly to you.
Once you have this you should go through the allegations carefully point by point and write up a ‘script’ of what your response is. Essentially you need to be clear what your story is and why it’s different.
If the allegations are unclear or impressionistic ask for clarification: they should be clear and precise.
Consider what supporting documentation you may have. Are there any emails, letters, memos or diary entries that verify your story? Does the business have relevant documents that would or could support your position?
If you have been suspended there are likely to be restrictions on who you can have contact with (see further details on this below) so be sure to check what you can and can’t say to other colleagues.
Having a written script will help you when preparing for any investigation meetings with your employer. This is for you and not necessarily something you have to provide to your employer. If you are thinking about providing a written statement to your employer it is best you take advice first.
Who can verify your version of events?
Start thinking about possible witnesses who might be able to verify your version of events. Are any colleagues able to provide evidence and statements? If so you can ask your employer to interview these witnesses as part of a fair process.
You should check what your employer’s grievance policy says and what their usual process is. Also familiarise yourself with ACAS guidance on grievances so you know what a fair process ought to look like. If you notice that the process isn’t being conducted in line with ACAS guidance, or your employer’s policies and guidance, say so.
Consider what you can say about your character and integrity
Think about what you can say about your character and history with the employer. For example, if you are a long-serving loyal employee with an unblemished work record, say so.
Ensure your employer is taking confidentiality seriously and there is no presumption of guilt in the way they are handling the matter.
If you have been suspended, depending on the circumstances, a knee-jerk suspension can be unfair and harsh and therefore a basis to raise your own complaint against your employer. Be aware that case law confirms that suspension is not a neutral act, even if the employer says it is. You should take advice if you have been suspended as soon as possible as time can be of the essence.
If you have suspicions about a ‘hidden agenda’ and think you may know why this malicious grievance has been raised, carefully explain why this is. For example have you provided negative feedback about a direct report’s work that may have triggered this? Is this colleague at risk of losing their job, perhaps because of a threat of performance management or a disciplinary process?
Stay calm and professional
Try not to be defensive and focus on being objective, measured and calm throughout. A careful approach is needed especially when challenging someone’s credibility.
You have the right to raise a grievance too
If your employer has not treated you fairly, you are concerned about damage to your reputation due to the way the process has been handled or you feel you may have been discriminated against or harassed, you can raise a grievance yourself. Ideally, this should be investigated via a separate process.
Once the investigation is concluded you should ask to be told the outcome of your colleague’s grievance, insofar as it relates to you. If the grievance is not upheld remember that this may not be the end as your colleague will have the right to appeal.
All information was correct at time of publication.