Preventing personal grievances

More people have been awarded higher personal grievance compensation this year compared to the same period in 2018, according to the latest stats from the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment.

Under s123(1)(c)(i) of the Employment Relations Act 2000, the Employment Relations Authority and Employment Court awarded more than $25,000 to 16% of personal grievance claims in the first half of 2019, compared to 4% at the same level in the 2018 period.

Employees awarded tax-free payment under s123(1)(c)(i) are compensated for humiliation, loss of dignity, or injury to the feelings of the employee.

This week (September 23) we saw reports of a worker who submitted a personal grievance for unjustified dismissal. He was awarded $25,000 for unjustified dismissal; $15,000 of that was for hurt and humiliation. The employer was fined a further $2,000 for failing to provide an employee agreement, $5,000 compensation for lost wages and $4,500 contribution to costs. 

With this in mind, we encourage employers to ensure they take the necessary steps to prevent issues from occurring in the workplace. 

Here’s a brief guide from our Senior Consultant, Anita Dazzi.

What are personal grievances and how can you avoid them?

In a nutshell, a personal grievance is a formal employee complaint against an employer (existing or former).

The most common grievances we see are a result of:

  • Poorly handled change management process: Changes required to your organisational structure? Too often we see decisions being made at the top without consulting with the employees. There is a required process before changing terms and conditions of employment (i.e. additional responsibilities) or looking at disestablishing a role and/or create different ones. The result? A personal grievance for disadvantage and/or unjustified termination.

  • Failing to properly address bullying or harassment concerns: We frequently see issues exacerbating because bullying/harassment has occurred insidiously within the culture. For example, a person’s behaviour has become accepted because it’s ‘how they are’. By failing to address the line between banter and bullying, the employer finds themselves in a complex personal grievance and lengthy investigation. More about this here.

  • Unfair treatment: Examples include treating someone unfairly because they are members of a union or other employee organisation, or because they have lawfully refused to work in certain circumstances. I.e. poor health and safety. Ensure that your managers, team leaders, and supervisors can respond to issues effectively and without prejudice.

How to avoid a personal grievance?

  • Communicate: Keep your employees in the loop, engage and consult with them on changes that could affect their employment and build confidence in your leadership. Involve every layer and ensure you clearly explain the ‘why’.

  • Put in place systems and processes: Failing to prepare, really is preparing to fail. Effective systems, workplace policies, and processes are a business’s backbone. Keep them updated, ensure that they are well communicated and have regular performance conversations with your team to deal with issues as they arise. Being proactive from the outset can prevent issues from escalating and becoming harder to resolve. 
  • Develop positive company culture: Develop an environment where employees feel safe to provide honest feedback and are encouraged to report any issues. This will help to reduce mistakes and improve confidence.

Look for the signs

Often there will be signs that indicate potential problems in the workplace.

These include:

  • Conflict between employees
  • Absenteeism and lateness
  • Performance issues
  • Long-term sickness
  • Misconduct
  • Demotivated teams

An issue in the workplace can create a chain-reaction within a team. Being able to identify and solve an issue quickly will improve employee motivation and loyalty.

Next steps

Do you have an issue in the workplace? Do you want to prevent them from occurring?

We recommend undertaking an HR Audit to establish any gaps in your policies and processes and any areas of improvements. For more information about this, please call Anita on 03 366 4034 or email a.dazzi@eqconsultants.co.nz