Employers must work with employees to resolve personal grievances early

Published May 31, 2021 (last updated January 25, 2022) - [email protected]
Personal Grievances

Employers need to take any personal grievances raised by their employees as an opportunity to rectify current issues, and take steps to prevent future issues from arising in the first place.

In any relationship, even a good one, sometimes a person feels they are being treated unfairly. This can also be the case in a business relationship. A personal grievance is a statutory procedure for employees to challenge dismissals or treatment they consider to be unfair.

The complaint doesn’t have to be in writing, and can be raised if the employee has made it reasonably clear in enough detail to their employer that they have a complaint in respect of one of the personal grievance categories in the Employment Relations Act 2000.  If the employee does raise it verbally, however, the employer should take notes to avoid a dispute later.

“The first steps to resolving any personal grievance is to have the employer accept the issue, rather than view it as a full-frontal attack from the employee,” said Courtney Woods, Advice Services Team Leader at Employsure, New Zealand’s leading workplace relations advisor.

“An employee can raise a personal grievance with their employer verbally. This should be within 90 days of whatever sparked this belief occurring, but can occur past the cut-off date if the employer agrees, or the Employment Relations Authority finds there are exceptional circumstances. The employee should clearly outline the reasons why they believe they have a grievance in sufficient detail for the employer to be able to respond.”

Some complaints that can be raised by bringing a personal grievance include unjust dismissal or disadvantage, discrimination, sexual or racial harassment, or duress due to union / non-union issues.

An employer and their employee should always try to resolve the matter themselves. They should both check the employee’s employment agreement for the process to follow, and the available services that can help. In some cases, both the employee and the employer may wish to seek professional advice on how to deal with the specifics of the case. 

Free alternative dispute resolution in the form of mediation is available through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment if the employer and the employee cannot put their differences aside. If the matter still cannot be resolved, the employee can lodge a claim with the Employment Relations Authority.

If an employee is successful in a personal grievance, they must be reinstated if they want to be, unless the Employment Relations Authority decides it is not practical. Other remedies include reimbursement of lost wages, compensation for humiliation or loss of a monetary or non-monetary benefits, or representative costs. If an employer breached the law, they may also be subject to penalties.

“Unjustified dismissal is arguably the most common of personal grievances, and employers need to take steps to minimise the risk to their business,” continued Ms Woods.

“An employer should only dismiss an employee on reasonable grounds after a fair process, and make sure the outcome is not decided in advance. The reasons for dismissal must be in writing, unless it is under a trial period, and the contractual notice of the affected employee’s last day needs to be given, unless they are being dismissed without notice for serious misconduct.

“Any outstanding pay for hours worked since the employee’s last pay needs to be paid out, as well as other entitlements. Employee management software like BrightHR can help employers keep track of all this.

“If an employer takes all these steps and keeps appropriate records, it can help avoid personal grievances escalating. Ultimately, employers should take any concerns seriously, gather all necessary information, and work with their employees to try and resolve personal issues as soon as possible,” she concluded.

Further enquiries:

Matthew Bridges
[email protected]

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