Resolving grievances brought by employees who refuse to engage in the process

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It is not unusual for certain employees to bring repeated grievances and then be uncooperative when their employer seeks to resolve them. Sometimes this approach is designed to pre-empt action they fear that an employer may take. Clearly, such a situation poses difficult issues for employers – how do you deal with an employee who is fundamentally unhappy at work and seemingly unwilling to try to resolve their issues?

In Hope v British Medical Association EAT/000187/21, this scenario played out. Mr Hope was employed by the BMA. He brought a number of grievances against senior staff which he wanted to discuss informally. However, he refused to progress his grievances to the formal stage or to withdraw them.

In an effort to resolve matters, the BMA called a formal grievance meeting and directed Mr Hope to attend but he failed to do so. The grievance meeting proceeded in his absence and, unsurprisingly, the grievances were not upheld.

The employer concluded that Mr Hope had brought frivolous and vexatious grievances and took disciplinary action against him which ultimately resulted in his dismissal for gross misconduct.

The Employment Tribunal held that the dismissal was fair and the Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed applying a four-stage test:

  1. Did the employer have a genuine belief in the misconduct?
  2. Did the employer reach that belief on reasonable grounds?
  3. Had there been a reasonable investigation?
  4. Was the decision to dismiss within the range of reasonable responses?

In applying the above test, it rejected the proposition that for an act to be gross misconduct it needs to amount to either deliberate wrongdoing or gross negligence.

It is often forgotten that the purpose of a grievance procedure is to try to resolve disputes between employers and employees. It is not intended as a means by which an employee can bring multiple complaints, not pursue them, and then presumably pull them out of a hat at a later date when it suits the employee. It was therefore open to a Tribunal to conclude that the employer’s response in commencing disciplinary action, which ultimately led to dismissal, was reasonable when having regards to the fact that the employee’s actions were subverting the purpose for which grievance procedures are designed.

Nevertheless, employers finding themselves in similar situations should not take this as a green light to dismiss troublesome employees. The BMA’s position was undoubtedly strengthened by the fact that it acted proportionately and reasonably, including scheduling a formal grievance meeting albeit that the employee refused to attend.

If you have any queries regarding this or any other employment matter, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team.