• Leah Norman

Responding to a PG

As an Employer, receiving a Personal Grievance (PG) claim can be tough. It can be stressful for you and unsettling for the rest of your team. Whether you are at fault or not, how you handle the situation is crucial.


For many employers, dealing with PG's consumes management time that could be better spent elsewhere. If you can avoid these grievances, then you are doing yourself, your staff, and your business plenty of favours.


Dealing with your employees in good faith and following fair processes where necessary goes a long way to help reduce the likelihood that personal grievances will crop up. Yet despite your best intentions you may still be confronted with staff members raising PG's.


In the first instance, before an issue develops into a PG, it should be discussed informally between you and your employee. If the issue remains unresolved, the employee may then consider progressing the matter.


An employee must raise a PG with their employer within 90 days of the grievance occurring, or them becoming aware of it. This time limit is enforced strictly by the courts, except in two situations:

  • if you as the employer consent to a claim being lodged outside the 90-day period; or

  • if the employee makes everything available for their representative to raise the grievance and the representative fails to do so on time; or

  • the employment agreement does not explain the options available to raise a grievance, including a failure to explain a 90-day time restriction; or

  • if you, as the employer, fail to provide reasons for dismissal in writing after having been asked to do so.

  • if there are exceptional circumstances such as health reason restricting the employee from raising the complaint in time

It is important to note that a PG does not need to be raised in writing, so if an employee does come to you with concerns relating to their employment, you should ask that they put these in writing, outlining what their particular concerns are, and the outcome they are hoping to achieve.


A PG is simply a complaint that your employee (or former employee) wants to bring to your attention, in which they allege they are being treated unfairly, usually with reference to one of the following points;

  • The employee was dismissed unjustifiably, whether for redundancy, poor work performance, illness or injury, or serious misconduct.

  • The employee's employment conditions were unjustifiably changed in a way that the employee feels has disadvantaged them.

  • The employee was discriminated against at work (this could be on the basis of sex, marital status, religious belief, ethical belief, colour, race, ethnic or national origins, disability, age, political opinion, employment status, family status or sexual orientation, because they refused to do work they believed was unsafe, or on the basis of their involvement in union activities)

  • The employee was racially or sexually harassed at work (either by an employer, a representative of the employer, or by a co-worker or one of the employer's customers or clients and the employer did not take steps to deal with it).

  • The employee was subjected to duress by an employer because the employee belongs or doesn't belong to a union.

The reality is a PG is the concern your employee brings to your attention. The term “personal grievance” is merely the way those types of concerns are described in the Employment Relations Act 2000. They can be raised formally or informally. The employee doesn’t even need to use the term personal grievance in order to raise one. That means your employee could raise a PG with you informally, and you may not realise it.


Viewed in this way, the term is not so important. Just know that if the employee says they have a grievance, they are letting you know that they think they have been treated unfairly and want you to do something about it.


At this stage it will be important to review and provide advice on any relevant correspondence, meeting minutes and/or statements that relate to the matter of the grievance, which in most cases is the employee’s termination (whether for reasons of performance, misconduct or redundancy) to ensure there was an appropriate reason for dismissal and a proper process was followed.


Even if you had a good reason for dismissal, if you have not followed the proper process then you could be in breach of your legal obligations as an employer.  This could mean you could be liable for compensation for lost wages and/or hurt and humiliation.


The response to the employee could be as simple as satisfying your legal obligations by providing the employee and/or their representative with reasons for dismissal and a copy of the employee’s employment agreement or it could be positioning your reasons and decision to dismiss in the best light possible, it is important, where possible, to respond in a constructive way, bearing in mind what is best for your business.


Don’t be afraid to meet with the employee to hear them further. Doing this as early as possible, and suspending your judgment until you have done so, will give you the best opportunity to resolve the situation as soon as possible.


Whether you meet with the employee and/or their representative one-on-one, or in the context of a free and confidential mediation, do so with a view to hearing whether there is any merit to their concerns. Then decide on what approach to take to resolve the issue as soon as possible.


A similar grievance faced by two employers may require two quite different approaches. If the matter is likely to proceed to the Authority it is advisable that you obtain the services of a person who is skilled in and familiar with this area of law and the processes involved.


The most important things to remember in any response are:

  1. Respond Promptly; a quick and professional response clearly outlining next steps will help to calm the situation and give everyone involved some direction. At minimum acknowledge receipt of the grievance as soon as you receive it, where possible, advise the employee when they might expect a response.

  2. Communicate Well; be polite, factual and concise in your communications – keep your emotions in check. Keep a record or log of all communications throughout the resolution process to avoid future misunderstandings.

  3. Act Professionally; which can be hard to do in situations where the PG feels personal, when you are close to the situation and emotions are often high, but it is important to keep a level-head and act fairly and professionally. Seek advice and assistance if you need to.

  4. Show Integrity; stay honest and take responsibility for any mistakes you may have made.

It is important that anyone advising you considers what the appropriate strategy is for you and your business. In the majority of cases employees are represented by advocates who charge on a “no win, no fee” basis. What this means is that given the advocate is wearing the up front costs involved it is unlikely that an employee who has raised a grievance will go away if you ignore it.


All in all, if your employee raises a PG, don’t escalate the issue by reacting defensively or ignoring it.


Instead, try to understand the employee’s concerns as best as you can. Meet with them one-on-one or in the context of a mediation. Consider whether there is any substance to their concerns before deciding how to deal with them – even if that means admitting your mistakes and learning from them.


Disclaimer

This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.