Yesterday, we looked at some of the elements your employee handbook should include. Today, we’ll take an in-depth look at what your grievance procedure should look like, courtesy of attorney Peter Panken of Epstein Becker & Green, PC. We’ll also tell you how you can get a comprehensive collection of 101 California-specific employee handbook — delivered immediately.
For yesterday’s handbook tips, click here.
Remember the “Four Cs”
When it comes to the grievance procedure, remember the four Cs:
- Communication if there is a problem, and that the company cares about employees;
- Catharsis to relieve the employee’s concern about the problem;
- Crystallization to figure out what the real problem is; and
- Conflict resolution in a fair way to obtain employee buy-in, if possible, so employees don’t feel it’s necessary to go outside to unions, government agencies, or lawyers for help.
Structuring the Grievance Procedure
A grievance procedure usually has three or four steps: (1) an oral complaint to a supervisor (or HR), (2) a written complaint to a manager, (3) a written complaint to top management, and possibly (4) mediation or impartial arbitration.
Step one. The first step is communication between the employee and his or her supervisor, who should be trained:
- to receive the employee in a private area and listen to him or her patiently;
- to take notes on what the employee says;
- not to interrupt or argue with the employee;
- to ask the employee to repeat the story after he or she has finished, while checking the notes already made;
- to confirm that the supervisor understands the problem by restating it to the employee and asking him or her to confirm that this is the problem and these are the facts as he or she perceives them;
- not to be afraid of making an “instant fix” if that is in order;
- to tell the employee the supervisor needs time to “check it out” if that seems to be the proper course;
- to communicate the supervisor’s position to the employee after the necessary check;
- to inform the employee of his or her right to pursue the matter to a higher level; and
- to inform the employee that there will be no retaliation for raising the grievance or appealing the supervisor’s decision.
101 California-specific employee handbook policies — emailed to you right away!
Step two. The second step in the grievance procedure normally will be more formal and use a written grievance form to crystallize the problem. The form should ask the employee to answer in writing five simple questions: (1) What is the problem? (2) When did you discuss it with your supervisor? (3) What was your supervisor’s response? (4) Why do you disagree? (5) What do you think should be done?
The first three answers reveal how well the supervisor handled the grievance. If lack of communication is the problem, the supervisor can be encouraged to correct the problem, creating a win-win solution.
By asking employees to indicate why they disagreed with their supervisor, you force them to crystallize the difference in position. Very often, the act of crystallization can show that the differences between the company and the employee aren’t as great as might have been perceived.
Finally, the employee is asked to propose a solution to the problem. It may be that, through all the rhetoric, the employee and the supervisor have lost sight of a potentially very simple solution to the problem, and if the employee proposes a solution that’s acceptable to the company, both sides win.
Some employees don’t easily articulate the problem, especially when faced with a written form. For that reason, many companies encourage employees to seek management aid in completing the written grievance. That task is often delegated to a sympathetic individual in the HR department who isn’t in a designated grievance step.
The written grievance ought to be submitted to a higher level of management than the supervisor in step one, such as an office or area manager, someone in the HR department, or a department manager. The decision of who will handle step two will depend on the size and complexity of the organization and the skills of the individuals involved.
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Step three. If there is still disagreement after the first two steps, it’s necessary to decide how the matter will be resolved. While people using grievance procedures in a nonunion company don’t vary their approach to the first two steps much, there are variety of interpretations of the final step or steps.
Most companies use a higher company official, e.g., a personnel director, a vice president, or even the president, for final resolution. Others have used a system in which a panel of three people, including an employee peer and two management people not involved in the particular problem, hears all sides, reviews the documentation, and makes a final resolution. A minority of companies add mediation (step four) or even impartial arbitration as step five.
In any event, the resolution should be patiently explained to the employee, emphasizing the reasons for the decision. This will be the company’s last chance to convince the employee of the decision’s fairness.
It’s vital to preserve the integrity of the system by (1) prohibiting retaliation by company officials and (2) having employees win once in a while as good PR.
Unions offer employees representation and power in dealing with supervisors and management. Empowering employees goes far in building up the team spirit that makes unions unnecessary.
Your California-Specific Handbook…Already Written
A handbook can be a valuable tool for your business, or it can be a source of confusion (and even litigation). Treat your handbook with the respect that it deserves as a vital communication link to your employees. Spend time developing it, update it periodically, and have it reviewed by experts.
Even better, let us take the drafting work off your plate for you. Our California Employee Handbook Template includes 101 vital policies — written specifically for employers in California — including:
- At-Will Employment
- Employee Classifications
- Social Media Code of Conduct
- Right to Observe Employees
- Voice Mail, Email, Electronic and Computer Files, and Usage
- Appearance and Courtesy; Uniforms
- Equal Employment Opportunity
- Harassment Prohibited
- Retaliation Prohibited
- Bullying Prohibited
- Accommodation of Disabilities
- Zero Tolerance for Drugs or Alcohol in the Workplace
- Final Pay
- Progressive Discipline
- Rest Periods
- Meal Periods
- Overtime Pay, Authorization, and Mandatory Overtime
- Payroll Deductions
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