In virtually all collective bargaining agreements between unions and employers, there is a formal grievance procedure which allows employees a formal avenue through which to seek a forum and possible redress if the employee thinks he or she has been wronged in some way. Non-union employers may be well served by implementing such a program.
These programs often serve a “therapeutic purpose.” Even when an employee does not get the result the employee wishes, having had the opportunity to be heard may help to ease the employee’s frustration or dissatisfaction. If the employee feels that he or she has been treated fairly, ill will may be avoided.
Although grievance programs are typically used to resolve conflicts between employers and employees, such programs can also be useful to resolve peer to peer conflicts.
Types of Grievance Programs
The simplest form of grievance mechanism may be a suggestion box or some other means by which an employee can express concerns to the employer. Of course, such boxes are also valuable tools for obtaining helpful suggestions from employees.
An internal grievance program should have a minimum of two steps and probably no more than three:
- Step 1. The employee initiates a grievance with his or her supervisor. If the issue involves the supervisor an alternative manager should be made available, e.g., the Human Resources Director.
- Step 2. If the employee is dissatisfied with the response at Step 1, the employee should be able to request consideration of the grievance by either the employee’s supervisor’s immediate superior or another person ranking higher than the supervisor.
- Step 3. If a third step is included, the grievance might be referred to the level of a regional or divisional human resources or industrial relations director, or to an officer of the company for smaller companies.
Grievances can be limited to disciplinary matters only. However, the value of the procedure may be greater if employees are free to raise any issue with the employer.
It is also important to provide employees an avenue for making positive suggestions or asking questions, whether through the suggestion box or otherwise. The ultimate goal is to create a work environment where employees and their managers view themselves as “us” and all on the same team, rather than an “us and them” dynamic which inevitably leads to conflict.
In an external procedure, there are two or three internal steps for a grievance. If satisfaction is not achieved, the employee may request mediation and/or final and binding arbitration. In this case a third party arbitrator hears the grievance and the arbitrator’s decision is binding on all parties. (There are a few rare exceptions where such awards may be set aside.)
The advantage of final and binding arbitration is that it provides finality to an issue. The disadvantage is that it is costly. Arbitration is much less expensive than litigation, but it can still cost several thousand dollars. Those costs are typically shared equally in a union environment. However, many employees would be unable to afford their share of those fees. Consequently, the employer may be forced to cover the costs of arbitration if the program is to be effective.
To view a Sample Grievance Policy, please click here.