Working in a small, close-knit workplace where everyone gets along, as is normal in most professional practices, it can be unimaginable that there would be any interpersonal issues.
But MAS Business Adviser Chris Wills says this is never a time to rest on your laurels. The risk of a personal grievance could impact any employer when least expected.
“Personal grievance claims can come out of the blue, even from employees that have been with the practice for years – and they can be costly, not just financially but in the time it takes to resolve any possible reputational damage.”
New Zealand is built on small businesses, many of which do not have strong processes in place, leaving them vulnerable.
“We still see practices that don’t have employment agreements or they’re very out of date, and small businesses can be very emotionally involved with staff, which can make it difficult for everyone when things go wrong.”
MAS established HealthyPractice in 2005 to help health practices work through staffing issues and provide human resources support. Ideally operating as the fence at the top of the cliff to help employers get things right and minimise the risk of a personal grievance claim.
Wills says the most important thing to do if you do receive a personal grievance from an employee that relates to a workmate is to follow the process outlined in the Employment Relations Act and seek professional advice.
Undertaking a disciplinary process for the first time can be daunting. MAS advises that you seek guidance from your professional advisers or the MAS HealthyPractice team before you start. If you hold employment disputes insurance, there will be a notification process, so make sure you contact your provider before you take any action.
Recommended process for employers to follow to help avoid a personal grievance claim when dealing with a potential disciplinary issue
Check your processes
Start with an open mind. Check the employment agreement and your practice policies carefully. Read up on the Employment Relations Act, and speak to your HealthyPractice adviser if you are signed up or seek legal advice
Talk to witnesses and document their observations. Make notes of any interactions. Your preliminary enquiries will help you determine whether you need to enter a disciplinary process or not.
Inform the employee of the allegations
Invite the employee to a disciplinary meeting. Before the meeting, let them know what the allegations are and have documentation of your investigation, any relevant employment clauses and policies and what the potential worst-case outcome of the meeting might be. Keep track of your communication with the employee in writing.
Give the employee an opportunity to respond
Allow the employee to respond to allegations and let them know they’re entitled to have a representative or support person present. Keep notes or record the meeting with permission and share this afterwards. If the employee resigns during the meeting, ask they take 24 hours to consider their decision before confirming if it’s still what they want to do. Follow up on any new information that comes to hand in the meeting. End the meeting with a confirmation of the follow-up and when you will confirm your proposed decision
Make a decision
Give the employee a proposed decision in writing. If there is a disciplinary outcome, like a warning, give the employee and their representative at least 48 hours to come back to you with any further information before you give your final decision. Remember to think about what a fair and reasonable employer would do in the circumstances. You may choose to call another meeting to deliver the final decision.
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