Employers and employees will no doubt be keenly aware of the potential disruption caused when a grievance lands on the desk of head-office.  If an employer refuses to consider a grievance, it might even give grounds for the employee to resign and claim constructive dismissal.

Of course, every employer should have an effective grievance procedure in place as (1) the right to raise a grievance is an implied term of the employment contract, (2) it is a requirement to include within the written statement of employment particulars the way a grievance should be raised, and (3) dealing with grievances in a proper and timely manner can prevent costly Tribunal claims.

So, all things considered, a grievance procedure is a useful and necessary tool to support a healthy working environment.

However, on occasions, an employer may find itself having to deal with a grievance that is entirely without merit, designed purely to cause as much disruption to the business as possible. This article explores to what extent an employer is obliged to engage when an employee embarks on an abuse of the grievance procedure.

The Case

In a recent Employment Appeals Tribunal decision (Hope v British Medical Association), an employee raised a number of grievances; some were minor complaints about managers, whilst others concerned management’s response to previous grievances. Frustratingly, he refused to advance any of his grievances to a formal stage.

In an effort to address the informal grievances, the employer arranged a formal grievance meeting, albeit the employee refused to attend. The meeting went ahead and it was decided that the content of the grievances had been entirely without merit.

By refusing to attend the formal grievance meeting, the employer considered that the employee’s conduct was an abuse of process. A disciplinary process followed and ultimately the employee was dismissed for gross misconduct. The employee claimed his dismissal was unfair.

The Decision

The Tribunal held that the dismissal was fair. The employee had brought numerous vexatious grievances, refused to progress them in accordance with the formal grievance procedure, and failed to adhere to the employer’s reasonable request that he attend a grievance meeting.

The employee’s conduct had therefore led to a fundamental breakdown in the working relationship.

What You Need to Know

The decision informs us that an employer can take disciplinary action, including dismissal, against an employee who abuses the grievance process and damages relationships in the workplace as a result.

Nonetheless, employers must remain mindful of the need to ensure a fair process is followed in reaching the decision to dismiss, as failure to do so can result in an unfair dismissal finding – even where the decision to dismiss was a reasonable response.

If you require advice on this topic or any other employment law matter, please contact our Employment Law team today on 0161 930 5151 or send us an e-mail to employmentteam@gorvins.com to see how we can help.

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