Friday May 17, 2024

Handling grievances

By Parvez Rahim
October 01, 2018

A person working in an organisation has superiors, colleagues and peers with whom he has to interact to accomplish his tasks. These interfaces are also involved in a similar activity. As a result, conflicts may arise between them, which are an indication of a healthy and competitive work environment.

However, there can be instances when a worker may exceed his limit and say or do something to the other that could offend the latter. If he reacts in a similar manner, the incident may fall within the ambit of a disciplinary issue. However, if the aggrieved person remains calm and reports the incident to his supervisor, the matter will fall within the purview of an employee’s grievance and must be handled and redressed on a priority basis. If the grievance is taken lightly by the management, employees may feel frustrated and disgruntled, which may demoralise them and consequently hamper their performance and productivity.

An employee approaches the management with the hope that his grievance will be resolved. A grievance is based on the belief that a specific policy, rule or system in the company hasn’t been applied equitably. It may also arise when a colleague or superior of the employee behaves with him in such a way that he feels degraded and humiliated. The process of grievance-handling comprises the following four steps to identify the problem, the facts, the options, and the solution.

In order to identify the problem, the managers will have to put themselves in the shoes of an employee. Issues that appear trivial to one person can seem fundamental to another. More often than not, the key to how to handle the problem will lie in the way it is initially presented.

If the employee is relaxed and the problem seems minor, it can possibly be resolved there and then – in the office or the shop floor. But if the manager feels that the person is upset or hinting at a more serious issue, then time and privacy is needed to nail the problem down as soon as possible.

During this first stage, the manager has to ask questions and listen carefully to what the employee has to say. In these situations, people often present only the symptoms of a problem and ask for solutions. The manager has to determine the underlying cause. Above all, the manager must resist the temptation to jump to conclusions before the real issues are clarified.

Sometimes, finding a solution to the problem may be simple. But it will often be necessary to talk to other people and review the background to the grievance. After gathering all the facts, the manager should schedule a meeting with the employee in order to discuss his proposed solution to the grievance.

Exploring different options to the solution may be difficult due to the limitations imposed by the company’s policy, budget or precedents. Nevertheless, a straightforward but empathetic discussion with the employee will help find a solution.

If the managers find themselves in the comfortable position of being able to solve the employee’s problem without any arguments, they must do so with good grace. It is quite irritating to deal with people who agree to do what you want in a manner that suggests they are doing you a special favour.

Section 34 of the Sindh Industrial Relations Act, 2013 lays down the procedure that a worker must follow to raise a grievance with his employer. A worker may take up his grievance with his employer with respect to any right guaranteed or secured to him by or under any law or any award by the court or settlement with the employer that for the time being is in force. This has to be put up in writing either by the worker himself or through his shop steward or the collective-bargaining agent (CBA) union, within three months of the day on which the cause of a grievance arises.

The employer has to issue his response to the grievance within 15 days if it has been directly raised by the worker. If the grievance has been brought to the employer’s knowledge through the shop steward or the CBA, then the employer has to reply within seven days. If the employer fails to give any response or if the worker is dissatisfied with the reply, he may file a petition before the labour court within 60 days. The court shall summon the parties and give its judgment after assessing the facts of the case.

If the grievance of a worker pertains to his alleged unfair dismissal from service in that case, it is mandatory for him to first raise his grievance with his employer before submitting a petition before the labour court. At times, there is a thin line between a grievance and a disciplinary issue. For instance, the aggrieved person, in an incident of sexual harassment, raises complaint against the offender as a grievance. However, the management deals with it as a disciplinary issue – ie, granting punishment to the accused after holding an enquiry into the allegations supported by incriminating evidence.

The writer is an industrial relationsprofessional.