An internal grievance procedure can be an effective tool for preventing wrongful termination lawsuits. Most employers have some form of grievance procedure in place, but few are used by employees and, when used, they’re often ineffective. Try including some or all of the following elements for an internal grievance policy that will actually work.
- The right to complain about any employment issue. A key to keeping employee grievances out of court is to not limit the types of complaints employees can bring within the company. Employer grievance policies should provide coverage for all types of workplace disputes, including disciplinary actions, performance evaluations, pay raises, promotions, and terminations.
- The right to bypass the offending supervisor in making a complaint. Ordinarily, parties should be encouraged to work out any problems among themselves without involving other managers or employees. Most complaints should therefore initially be registered with the employee’s immediate supervisor. But to maximize perceived and actual fairness, the grievance policy should allow complaints to be made to someone other than an immediate supervisor when the complaint is based on that supervisor’s conduct.
- The right to appeal to management. The appeal process should provide recourse to a manager who can review the decision of the employee’s supervisor. This is necessary as a check on arbitrary actions of the supervisor, and to ensure uniformity among departments.
- The right to bypass the offending official on appeal. The employee should also be permitted to bypass on appeal any company official whose conduct the employee has challenged.
- The right to be free from retaliation. To reinforce procedural fairness for complaints made in good faith, include a promise of nonretaliation in company handbooks, personnel manuals, and supervisor-training materials. Employers may wish to consider a statement in the grievance policy that managers and supervisors may be subject to dismissal if the policy is violated.
- The right to representation and assistance. To maximize actual and perceived fairness, employers may wish to specify an individual or department (e.g., human resources) where the employee can receive help with complaints, appeals, or any other part of the grievance process. Employers may wish to extend to the employee the right to request the assistance of any employee who is willing to act on his or her behalf in the grievance process.
- A second level of appeal with an employee review board. Depending on the outcome of the review by management, the grievance may then be referred to an employee review board, selected by a vote of all company employees or selected randomly from lists of volunteers. A review board may serve as an important element in convincing employees to accept the grievance process and avoid litigation.
For more of this type of practical advice for avoiding wrongful termination actions when engaging in employee discipline and termination, check out CEB’s Advising California Employers and Employees, chap 17.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- Employers: 9 Provisions You Need in a Whistleblower Policy
- What Not to Do When Terminating an Employee
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