IT staff involved in disagreements at work could benefit from new dispute resolution procedures which came into force this month.
The procedures aim to encourage employers and staff to meet and settle their differences at work, rather than fight it out through an employment tribunal.
Research by the Department of Trade & Industry found that many work-related disputes have their origins in poor communication between staff and managers.
It found that 33% of UK workers would prefer to wait for a problem to blow over, rather than tackle it. Only 10% said they would raise problems, and many said they feared "making a fuss".
The new procedures, which will be mandatory for staff and employers, are designed to get both sides to attempt to solve problems through formal meetings before they turn into legal disputes. They require staff who feel aggrieved to put their complaint in writing and to go through a formal meeting and appeal process.
Employers will have to go through the same procedure if they want to discipline or dismiss a member of staff.
Failure to follow the proper procedure could leave either side at a disadvantage if the case goes to a tribunal, said Steve Gibbons, head of employment law at employment research company Incomes Data Services.
"Employers may find themselves faced with an unfair dismissal finding on the basis of an inadvertent, and apparently minor, mistake in procedure. And an employee who fails to lodge a grievance may be barred from the tribunal," he said.
Even when employees are successful at tribunals, their relationship with their employers can be irreparably damaged. Putting formal procedures in place could help save working relationships.
The DTI's research found that 50% of employers taken to tribunal did not have procedures in place to deal with problems. And of those that did, 33% had not used them before the case came to tribunal.
Nearly 70% of applications to tribunals came from employees who had not held a meeting to try to resolve the problem with their employer first. The DTI believes the procedures could reduce the 110,000 tribunals heard each year by more than 33%.
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- The employee should send their employer a written statement giving reasons for the grievance
- Both parties must be given time to consider the complaint
- Employer and employee should hold a face-to-face meeting. The employer must inform the employee of its decision and the employee's right to appeal
- An appeal meeting must take place if required - the employer must inform the employee of the outcome of the appeal.
- The same procedures must be followed by the employer in disciplinary and dismissal cases.
Advice for staff
- Get up to speed on company policy: attend briefings, note changes to the employee handbook, or approach managers for information
- Know your rights and obligations. For example, you have a right to raise issues at a face-to-face meeting, and your employer must brief you about your rights
- Follow the DTI processes in a dispute and keep a note of everything that is done, written or said
- Contact Acas, the Citizens' Advice Bureau, trade unions or the DTI website for further information.