Mitigate against the frisk of workplace disputes

Mark Mason, employment lawyer. INNT 20-450-CON
Mark Mason, employment lawyer. INNT 20-450-CON

A wise employer will take steps to mitigate against the risk of disputes arising in the workplace.

Examples of this include recruiting the correct person in the first place to try to ensure that the right type of person is recruited to fit in with the others in the organisations.

Clear communication regarding what is expected regarding performance as well as the organisation’s rules and procedures is important. It is also important to have a culture of openness where hopes, disappointments, frustrations, development needs and other matters can be discussed honestly on a one-to-one and/or team level.

However, no matter how hard we try, we cannot completely eliminate conflict in the workplace. Every employer will at some stage have to deal with a performance or misconduct issue, a dispute between employees or a grievance. So, when these issues arise, how should they be tackled?

There are statutory procedures for dealing with disputes in the workplace and these are backed up in some detail by the Labour Relations Agency Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. Where an employer wishes to address an issue it has with the performance or conduct of an employee, the disciplinary procedure applies. Where the employee wishes to complain about a matter relating to their work, the grievance procedure applies.

The Labour Relations Agency’s Code of Practice encourages employers and employees to resolve matters informally in the first instance where possible. This might involve a manager having a quiet word with an employee about a minor misconduct matter (such as poor timekeeping, or making too many personal phone calls during working hours), or an employee speaking to their manager to try to resolve an issue that has caused the employee difficulty.

If the informal discussion resolves the issue, then there is no need to move on to the formal process. If the informal discussion does not lead to resolution or if informal resolution is not appropriate because of the nature of the matter (e.g. a harassment complaint or an allegation of theft), then the legislation and Code of Practice sets out a process that should be followed. This process applies whether the employer is instigating a disciplinary procedure or the employee is raising a grievance. The procedure is as follows:

- the complaint/issue is set out in writing;

- a meeting is convened (at which the employee has the right to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative);

- the employee receives the outcome in writing from the employer;

- if the employee is dissatisfied with the outcome (s)he may submit an appeal in writing;

- an appeal meeting is convened (if possible, the appeal is heard by a more senior manager);

- the chair of the appeal meeting submits a written appeal outcome and the process is at an end

The procedure outlined above allows both parties to consider the issue properly in advance of a meeting to discuss the matter. In addition, the entitlement to a written outcome allows the employee a chance to reflect on the outcome and the reasons for it, before deciding whether or not to appeal.

Employers should note that if an employee is dismissed without the employer having followed the procedure outlined above, the dismissal will be found to have been automatically unfair. In addition, industrial tribunals have the power to increase compensation by up to 50 per cent as a penalty against the employer for a failure to follow the statutory dismissal procedure.

Following the procedure outlined in this article will ensure that employers comply with legal requirements in relation to dispute resolution and should also help to ensure that disputes, when they arise, are dealt with in a fair and reasonable manner.

Mark Mason, who is an employment lawyer, based in Mallusk. If you have a query that you would like Mark to address in this column, please get in touch with him on 028 9084 8899 or email

This article intended as a guide and for general information only.