Employee disputes – six steps to effective management

Year Published: 2015

Employee disputes hit the headlines recently with the BBC’s dismissal of Jeremy Clarkson. While few disputes are as high profile as this there are some important points to note for all employers. In particular, that getting to the bottom of the situation swiftly in order to make the right decision is critical.

This critical process is what we call ‘making findings of fact’. The extensive media hype with the Clarkson case could easily have affected the BBC’s assessment of the facts as his employer. It actually took the right decision, however in many disciplinary situations, failure to establish the facts can result in the wrong course of action.

So here are six steps to effectively managing employee disputes to help employers:

  1. Talk to all parties involved – Everyone involved in some way needs to be consulted, to assess and remove discrepancies and inconsistencies, so that you can establish the facts. This is essential before deciding on the appropriate disciplinary penalty.
  2. Consider your options – The choices open to you are far broader than either taking no action or dismissing the employee. Things may be more complex than this. For example, a dispute may involve two employees, let’s say a manager and a subordinate. Both may be at fault but their behaviour should be reviewed differently in relation to their role. For example, the manager should set an example so may get a final warning, whereas the subordinate could get a first written warning.
  3. Judge reasonably and fairly – You might easily feel betrayed or let down by the employees in question which could cloud your judgment of the incident, especially if the business has been damaged in any way. But failure to stick to the rulebook in your judgement could create risks around unfair dismissal. You need to come to a reasonable decision and be a reasonable employer.
  4. Consider the wider implications – You should think about who else is affected by the situation other than the employee. This could potentially include other employee’s who were directly affected, the workforce as a whole, clients, customers or partners. Keeping your business’ reputation intact is critical so these wider factors should be part of your decision.
  5. Assess the risks – You should also assess the risks to your business, such as loss of customers or employees who are loyal to the employee in question. If another employee is claiming mistreatment, think about the risks of making the wrong decision. Failure to dismiss an employee who has done something wrong could make the other party unhappy, leading to an unwanted resignation and even a constructive dismissal case with further damage and cost incurred.
  6. Ask an expert – Don’t go through the process alone; it can be very tough and lonely, even with the support and views of your fellow managers. Professional practical advice from a specialist employment adviser will be invaluable in helping you take the right approach. The advice will ensure you know your rights as an employer and can objectively steer your employee through the process to a fair and low risk outcome for your business.

Few businesses are likely to have a case the scale of Clarkson vs. BBC on their hands but all employers should consider that disputes are tricky to navigate and can damage the business significantly if not carefully and sympathetically managed.

For further information on effectively managing employee disputes or any other employment law matters, please contact our Employment Law & HR team on 0161 475 7676.

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