Grievance Procedure

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The main benefit of any grievance procedure or system is that it encourages human problems to be brought into the open so that the management can learn about those, and try corrective actions.

Many suggest that grievances should be settled on the spot directly and without delay between the supervi­sor or foreman, and the worker.

Sometimes, the foreman or the supervisor himself/herself may be the cause of grievances. Therefore, a sound grievance procedure is essential for sound labour management relations.

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A good grievance procedure is one which meets its objective of grievance redressal within the least possible time and least possible cost, both financial and psychological.

A grievance occurs when there is dissatisfaction with some aspect of employment and grievance may be presented as request or complaint. There may a good reason for the grievance or it may be just imaginary.

Learn about:-

1. Meaning of Grievance Procedure 2. Purpose of Grievance Procedure 3. Features 4. Elements 5. Procedure Envisaged in Handling the Grievances 6. Worker Complaints 7. Reasons.

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8. Ways in which Grievance can be Recognised 9. Grievance Procedure in Indian Industry 10. Considerations in Designing a Grievance Procedure 11. Prerequisites.


Grievance Procedure: Meaning, Purpose, Features, Elements, Reasons, Design, Prerequisites and Other Details

Grievance Procedure – Meaning

The most important channel through which discontent and dis­satisfaction of employees can be handled is through evolving a grievance procedure. A grievance procedure may be defined as the method or procedure by which a grievance is filed and carried through different steps or stages leading to an ultimate decision.

Through such a procedure, one finds an avenue and opportunity to give vent to one’s grievances. If the management does not induce employees to express their grievances, unions will do so.

Discouraging employees from expressing grievances also amounts to ignoring grievances. When not handled in time, it may be beyond the management’s control to handle the problem. It is, therefore, important to have a grievance procedure to process the grievance.  

ADVERTISEMENTS:

The main benefit of any grievance procedure or system is that it encourages human problems to be brought into the open so that the management can learn about those, and try corrective actions. Many suggest that grievances should be settled on the spot directly and without delay between the supervi­sor or foreman, and the worker. Sometimes, the foreman or the supervisor himself/herself may be the cause of grievances. Therefore, a sound grievance procedure is essential for sound labour management relations.


Grievance Procedure – Purpose

(1) Let the aggrieved employee know what to do if he/she has a grievance and where to go for its redressal.

(2) Check on arbitrary management decision by providing for appeals.

(3) Encourage fair and equitable treatment keeping in view the rights of the employees.

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(4) Provide a check over the arbitrary use of power and authority of superiors.

(5) Minimize discontent and dissatisfaction among employees.

The actual procedure for redressal of grievances followed by different concerned may either be an open door or step ladder procedure. In an open door policy, the management points out that no worker is prevented from coming to them directly with his/her grievances, and can meet the head of the organiza­tion to get his/her grievances redressed.

But such an informal open door policy for handling grievances may be suitable for small units. When the organization is large, it may not be possible to attend the workers immediately or personally or to pay personal attention—the need for a step ladder procedure for expeditiously processing the grievance arises.

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Some of the basic issues that require attention for the purposes of handling grievances are:

(i) Acknowledge dissatisfaction

(ii) Identify the problem (that is the nature of complaint)

(iii) Get the facts

(iv) Analyse and decide.


Grievance Procedure – 4 Important Features

A good grievance procedure is one which meets its objective of grievance redressal within the least possible time and least possible cost, both financial and psychological.

From this point of view, a grievance procedure should be built on the following principles:

Feature # 1. Conformity to Legal Provisions:

Grievance procedure is developed either by the management on its own or with consultation of employees. There are various legal provisions to take care of employer-employee relationship. Therefore, a grievance procedure should not infringe any legal provision as in the case of a conflict, legal provision prevails over voluntarily agreed grievance procedure.

Feature # 2. Acceptability:

Grievance procedure, to be effective, must be acceptable to both management and employees and their union. In order to be acceptable, the procedure should ensure (i) a sense of fair play and justice to employees, (ii) reasonable exercise of authority by management, and (iii) adequate participation of employees/union.

Feature # 3. Simplicity:

The procedure should be a simple one which is easily understandable by employees. As far as possible, the number of steps should be kept limited as cumbersome processes take more time and energy which becomes quite frustrating to the employees. The employees must know very clearly whom to approach for the redressal of a specific type of grievance.

Feature # 4. Promptness:

This is the most essential feature of an effective grievance procedure. A proverb says that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. This is true for grievance procedure too.

The promptness in a grievance procedure may be brought by the following features:

(i) As far as possible, the grievances should be settled at the first level. This can be done by specifying the grievances which can be taken for consideration at different levels.

(ii) No matter should ordinarily be taken up at more than two levels, that is, normally, there should be only one appeal.

(iii) Time limit should be placed at each step and it should be followed rigidly at each level.

(iv) In order to make prompt decisions on grievances, all personnel involved including union representatives should be provided training in this respect.


Grievance Procedure – Elements of a Grievance Redressal Procedure

The basic elements of a grievance redressal procedure may be listed thus:

1. The existence of a sound channel through which a grievance may pass for redressal if the previous stage or channel has been found to be inadequate, unsatisfactory or unacceptable. This stage may comprise three, four or five sub-stages.

2. The procedure should be simple, definite and prompt, for any complexity or vagueness or delay may lead to an aggravation of the dissatisfaction of the aggrieved employee.

3. The steps in handling a grievance should be clearly defined. These should comprise-

i. Receiving and defining the nature of the grievance;

ii. Getting at the relevant facts, about the grievance;

iii. Analysing the facts, after taking into consideration the economic, social, psychological and legal issues involved in them;

iv. Taking an appropriate decision after a careful consideration of all the facts; and

v. Communicating the decision to the aggrieved employee.

4. Whatever the decision, it should be followed up in order that the reaction to the decision may be known and in order to determine whether the issue has been closed or not. It is relevant to note here that the management is often guilty of errors in its handling of the grievance redressal procedure.

These errors are:

i. Stopping too soon the search for facts;

ii. Expressing the opinion of the management before all the pertinent facts have been uncovered and evaluated;

iii. Failing to maintain proper records;

iv. Resorting to an executive fiat instead of dispassionately discussing the facts of the grievance of the employee;

v. Communicating the decision to the grievant in an improper way; and

vi. Taking a wrong or hasty decision, which the facts or circumstances of the case do not justify.

These errors can be avoided if the management acts cautiously, fairly, on the basis of all the facts that can be collected, and with a cool mind and in a co-operative and helpful manner. Pigors and Myers are of the view that a personnel administrator or an Industrial Relations Officer should bear the following points in mind while evaluating the success or otherwise of the grievance redressal procedure-

a. Was the case handled in such a way that the parties involved in it were able to identify, and agree upon, what was at stake?

b. Was the incident closed with a sense of satisfaction on the part of everyone immediately involved in the original complaint?

c. Was the case handled in a way which strengthened the line authority, especially at the level immediately above that at which dissatisfaction was first expressed?

d. Did the solution result in a better understanding and a better adjustment between the supervisor and his subordinate?

e. As a result of this case, did this understanding spread among others in the management and in the trade union who were not directly involved in the original complaint?

f. Did the solution contribute to the operational efficiency of the organisation?


Grievance Procedure Procedure Envisaged in Handling the Grievances

Grievance machinery will be required to be set up in each undertaking to administer the grievance procedure. For the purposes of constituting a grievance machinery, workers in each department (if a department is too small, in a group of department) and each shift shall elect, from among themselves and for a period of not less than one year, departmental representatives and forward the list of persons so elected to the management.

Where the union(s) in the undertakings is in a position to submit an agreed list of names, recourse to election may not be necessary. Where the work committees (as per provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act) are functioning satisfactorily, its members shall act as departmental rep­resentatives. Correspondingly, the management shall designate for each department the person(s) who shall be approached in the first instance, and the departmental heads nominated by the management shall constitute the grievance committee, the composition of which may be indicated. In the case of appeals against discharge or dismissals, the management shall designate the authority to which appeals could be made.

While the grievance procedure evolved needs to be adopted to meet special circumstances prevail­ing in defense undertakings, railways, plantations, and also small enterprises with few employees, the procedure envisaged in handling the grievances should be as follows –

(i) An aggrieved employee shall first present his/her grievance verbally in person to the officer des­ignated by the management for the purpose. An answer shall be given within 48 hours of present­ing the complaint.

(ii) If the worker is not satisfied with the decision of the officer or fails to receive an answer within the stipulated period, he/she shall, either in person or accompanied by his/her departmental representatives, present his/her grievances to the head of the department designated by the man­agement for the purposes of handling grievances.

For this purpose, a fixed time shall be specified during which, on any working day, an aggrieved worker could meet the departmental head for the presentation of grievances. The departmental head shall give his/her answer within 3 days of the representation of grievances. If action cannot be taken within that period, the reasons for delay should be recorded.

(iii) If the decision of the department head is unsatisfactory, the aggrieved worker may request for the forwarding of his/her grievance to the grievance committee which shall make its recommen­dation to the manager within 7 days of the workers request. If the recommendations cannot be made within this time limit, the reason for such delay shall be recorded.

Unanimous recommen­dations of the grievance committee shall be implemented by the management. In the event of a difference of opinion among the members of the grievance committee, the views of the members along with the relevant papers shall be placed before the manager for final decision. In either case, the final decision of the management shall be communicated to the worker concerned by the personnel officer within 3 days from the receipt of the grievance committees recommendations.

(iv) Should the decision from the management be not forthcoming within the stipulated period or should it be unsatisfactory, the workers shall have the right to appeal to the management for a revision. In making this appeal, the worker, if he/she so desires, shall have the right to take a union official along with him/her to facilitate discussions with the management. The manage­ment shall communicate its decisions within a week of the workman’s revision petition.

(v) If no agreement is still possible, the union and the management may refer the grievance to vol­untary arbitration within a week of the receipt of the management’s decision by the worker.

(vi) Where a worker has taken up a grievance for redressal under this procedure, the formal concilia­tion machinery shall not intervene till all steps in the procedure are exhausted. A grievance shall be presumed to take the form of a dispute only where the final decision of the top management in respect of the grievance is not acceptable to the worker.

(vii) If a grievance arises out of an order given by the management, the said order shall be complied with before the workmen concerned takes recourse to the procedure laid down for the redressal of the grievance. However, if there is a time lag between the issue of order and its compliance, the grievance procedure may immediately be invoked, but the order, nevertheless, must be complied with within the due date, even if all the steps in the grievance procedure have not been exhausted. It may, however, be advisable for the management to await the findings of the grievance machinery.

(viii) Worker’s representatives on the grievance committee shall have the right of access to any docu­ment connected with the enquiry maintained in the department in order to understand the merit or, otherwise, of the worker’s grievance. The management’s representatives shall have the right, however, to refuse to show any document or give any information they consider to be confiden­tial. Such confidential documents shall not be used against the workman in the course of the grievance proceedings.

(ix) There shall be a time limit within which an appeal shall be taken from one step to the other. For this purpose, the aggrieved worker shall, within 72 hours of the receipt of the decision at one stage (or if no decision is received, on the expiry of the stipulated period), file his/her appeal with the authority at the next higher stage.

(x) In calculating the various time intervals, holidays shall not be reckoned.

(xi) The management shall provide necessary clerical and other assistance for the smooth function­ing of the grievance machinery.

(xii) If it is necessary for any worker to leave the department during working hours, because of a call from the labour/personnel officer, or any other officer of the established grievance machinery, previous permission of the superior shall necessarily be obtained. Subject to this condition, the workers shall not suffer any loss in wages for the work time lost in this manner.

(xiii) If, however, there be any complaint against any individual member of the staff, who is nominated by the management to handle grievance at the lowest level, the workman may take up his griev­ance at the next higher stage, i.e., at the level of the departmental head.

(xiv) In the case of any grievance arising out of discharge or dismissal of a worker, the procedure shall not apply. Instead a discharge or dismissed worker shall have the right to appeal either to the dismissing authority or to a senior authority who shall be specified by the management within a week from the date of dismissal or discharge. At the time the appeal is heard, the worker may, if he/she so desires, be accompanied by either an official of the recognized union or a fellow worker as the case may be.


Grievance Procedure – Worker Complaints (With the Steps Involved in the Grievance Procedure)

A grievance occurs when there is dissatisfaction with some aspect of employment and grievance may be presented as request or complaint. There may a good reason for the grievance or it may be just imaginary.

According to Wand Schneider, worker complaints come under the following categories:

i. They are real and have a basis

ii. They arise from a lack of information

iii. They may be due to misunderstanding

iv. They result from the lack of sound policies and practices

v. They are the result of personal differences and clashes

vi. They are disguised

In some organizations, certain effective methods are used to detect grievances and take appropriate measures. They include open-door policy, suggestion system, gripe sessions, morale surveys, formalized complaint procedures and rap sessions. Napper identified bargaining unit work, emergency situations, job assignments, temporary transfers, promotion, and disqualification of employees, assignment of overtime, wage rates and discipline as the common sources of grievance. Communication gaps seem to be the underlying causes for grievances in all these cases.

Only a few organizations have a well-designed grievance process which is made known to all the employees in the organization. When a grievance occurs, employees know what to do, and where to go. Existence of such a person assures all the employees know that their grievance will be received and handled fairly and objectively.

The following are the steps involved in the grievance procedure:

i. The employee discusses his or her grievances with the union representative

ii. In the case of non-unionized company, such discussion may take place with the supervisor.

iii. With the assistance of the shop-steward, the employee presents his or her grievance to the immediate supervisor orally or in a written form. The superior promises to investigate the matter and take necessary actions.

iv. If the grieved employee is not satisfied, the grievance is presented to higher levels in the management in a written form.

v. The final step is arbitration. The grievance is submitted to an impartial arbitrator if the disagreement persists. After receiving all the facts and figures, the arbitrator decides on the issue. The decision becomes binding on both sides.

With good training and knowledge in human resource management, supervisors can resolve grievance issues in their initial stages as going through an elaborate grievance process can be time consuming, demoralizing, and costly.

Grievance handling is one of the critical areas of human resource management where companies pay a very little attention and much training effort is focused. Generally, the supervisors are not trained to handle grievance procedures. The managers think that it is below their dignity to sit with their employees and talk about their problems and play a balancing act between defending the company and trying to be nice to employees.

There is a deep-rooted feeling among employees that management will victimize when they bring out and present a problem or issue which affects the company. This is not a healthy attitude. Generally, the types of issues which are brought to the grievance process are gripes or feelings of discomfort or dissatisfaction of the employees relating to unfair treatment, whether it is perceived or real.

Experiences show that employees hold on to these feelings quite for some time before they even talk about them or convey to their supervisors. The most common grievances which occur in companies are dealing with unfair or biased treatment in the areas of salary or pay, subjectivity in personnel decisions during promotional and transfer exercises. Quite a few of them occur during the performance evaluation exercises.

Some of these grievances also stem from co-workers involving disrespect, name-calling, and ostracizing. Where unionized, anything goes against the terms of contract are also brought out during grievance handling exercises. The common complaint is that employee is asked to perform something which is not part of his or her job.

Butters say that where a grievance is held by an employee, he or she has the right to declare a grievance in terms of a particular procedure usually stated by the company. It is an unstated general rule that any grievance ought to be raised at the earliest opportunity possible. Delays in doing so may not be advantageous for the employee or his or her company.


Grievance Procedure Reasons

In many cases, even the proactive approach of management for removing the causes of grievances may leave some scope for the emergence of grievances. For handling such grievances, a grievance handling machinery, known as grievance handling procedure (or simply as grievance procedure), must be provided.

Walter Bear has defined grievance procedure as follows:

“The grievance procedure is a problem-solving, dispute-settling machinery which has been set up following an agreement to that effect between labour and management. It is the means by which a trade union or an employee makes and processes his claim that there has been a violation of the labour agreement by the company.”

Thus, grievance procedure is a device through which grievances are settled, generally to the satisfaction of employees/trade union and management.

A grievance procedure is required because of the following reasons:

1. A grievance procedure provides the way through which grievance can be redressed, both to the satisfaction of employees and management. It may be relevant to recognize that if grievances are not handled properly, they may become the source of much explosive situation.

2. Grievance procedure is required because many grievances of employees may not be settled by their respective supervisors even if the latter may not be the source of grievances. Either the supervisors may not have adequate training and orientation or may not have commensurate authority for settling grievances. Moreover, there may be personality conflicts and other causes as well.

3. The existence of grievance procedure puts restrain on the arbitrary actions of management in settling grievances. Further, employees may have more faith in mutually agreed grievance procedure.

4. Grievance procedure serves as an outlet for employee’s gripes, discontentment, and frustration. In fact, the grievance procedure acts like a pressure valve on a steam boiler.

The employees are entitled to legislative, executive, and judicial protection and they get this protection from the grievance redressal procedure.

Checklist to Evaluate, the Grievance Procedure:

Management should evaluate the grievance procedure to know its functioning through the following checklist:

(i) Was the case handled in such a way that the parties involved in it were able to identify, and agree upon, what was at stake?

(ii) Was the incident closed with a sense of satisfaction on the part of everyone immediately involved in the original complaint?

(iii) Was the case handled in a way which strengthened the line authority, specially at the level immediately above that at which dissatisfaction was first expressed?

(iv) Did the solution result in a better understanding and a better adjustment between the supervisor and his subordinate?

(v) As a result of this case, did this understanding spread among others in the management and in the trade union who were not directly involved in the original complaint?

(vi) Did the solution contribute to the operational efficiency of the organisation?

Discipline is due to employer’s dissatisfaction of employees. Some employees complain that unattended grievances turn to be an in-disciplinary issue.


Grievance Procedure Ways in which Grievance can be Recognised

Grievances can be recognised in a number of ways some of which are as under:

1. Gripe Boxes:

Under this process, a gripe box may be placed at specific locations in the factory for lodging anonymous complaints pertaining to any aspect relating to work. Since the complainant uses to be frightened of revealing his identity, he can express his feelings of injustice or discontent frankly and without any fear of victimization.

2. Grievance Procedure:

A Generally, this way is considered as the best means to present employee dissatisfaction at various levels. To achieve this purpose the management must encourage employees to utilise it whenever they have something to say. In case such procedure does not exist the grievances would pile-up and burst-up in violent forms at a future date.

Eventually, things might take a violent mode altogether, impair cordial relations between labour and management. If management fails to induce employees to express their grievances, unions will take over and emerge as powerful bargaining representatives.

3. Observation:

Under this process, a manager/supervisor aims to track the behaviour of those people who are working under him. He must spot in case a particular employee is observed not getting along with others spoiling materials due to carelessness or recklessness, showing indifference to commands, reporting late for work or is remaining absent the signals are fairly obvious. Since the supervisor is close to the scene of action, he can always find out such unusual behaviours and report promptly.

4. Exit Interview:

The manager by making sincere endeavours by arranging an exit interview for those employee who wants to leave their current job, he might be able to find out the real reasons why they are leaving the organisation. To elicit valuable information, the manager must encourage the employee to give a correct picture so as to rectify the mistakes promptly.

If the employee is not providing fearless answers, he may be given questionnaire to fill up and post the same after getting all his dues cleared from the organisation where he is currently employed.

5. Opinion Surveys:

Surveys conducted from time to time to elicit the opinions of employees about the organisation and its policies are called opinion surveys.

6. Open Door Policy:

This is a kind of walk-in-meeting with the manager in the meeting the employee can give a vent to his feelings openly about any work related grievance. The manager can cross-check entire the details of the complaint through various means at his disposal.

The management had better use as many channels as possible, in case its intention to uncover the truth behind the curtain.


Grievance Procedure – In Indian Industry

The 15th session of Indian Labour Conference held in 1957 “emphasized the need of an established grievance procedure for the country which would be acceptable to unions as well as to management.” In the 16th session of Indian Labour Conference, a model for grievance procedure was drawn up. This model helps in creation of grievance machinery. According to it, workers’ representatives are to be elected for a department or their union is to nominate them.

Management has to specify the persons in each department who are to be approached first and the departmental heads who are supposed to be approached in the second step. The Model Grievance Procedure specifies the details of all the steps that are to be followed while redressing grievances.

These steps are:

STEP 1 – In the first step the grievance is to be submitted to departmental representative, who is a representative of management. He has to give his answer within 48 hours.

STEP 2 – If the departmental representative fails to provide a solution, the aggrieved employee can take his grievance to head of the department, who has to give his decision within 3 days.

STEP 3 – If the aggrieved employee is not satisfied with the decision of departmental head, he can take the grievance to Grievance Committee. The Grievance Committee makes its recommendations to the manager within 7 days in the form of a report. The final decision of the management on the report of Grievance Committee must be communicated to the aggrieved employee within three days of the receipt of report. An appeal for revision of final decision can be made by the worker if he is not satisfied with it. The management must communicate its decision to the worker within 7 days.

STEP 4 – If the grievance still remains unsettled, the case may be referred to voluntary arbitration.


Grievance Procedure Considerations in Designing a Grievance Procedure 

It is advisable to set up an effective grievance procedure in the organisation. The procedure should be flexible enough to meet the requirements of the organisation. It should be simple so that an average employee is able to understand it. Though such a procedure will vary in different organisations, yet the following principles should be observed while laying down a procedure.

1. A grievance should be dealt with in the first instance at the lowest level; that is to say, an employee should raise his grievance with his immediate superior. It may be simple to settle it on the spot and that might be the end of it. Even if it cannot be settled at that level, the man’s superior will know what is happening.

This is necessary not only to maintain his authority, but also to prevent him from being aggrieved, as he will certainly be, if he is by-passed and later hears of the complaint from his own superior.

2. It must be made clear to the employee what line of appeal is available. If he cannot get satisfaction from his immediate superior, he should know the next higher authority to whom he can go.

3. Since delay causes frustration and tempers may rise and rumours spread around the work, it is essential that grievances should be dealt with speedily.

4. It must be clearly understood in establishing a grievance procedure that if the grievance is against an instruction given by a superior, it is in the interest of discipline that instruction must be carried out. Only then can the employee register his protest and set in motion the procedure.

5. The grievance procedure should be set up with the participation of the employees and it should be applicable to all in the organisation. It should be agreed that there will be no recourse to the official machinery of conciliation unless the procedure has been carried out and there is still dissatisfaction, and moreover, there must be no direct action on either side which might prejudice the case or raise tempers while the grievance is being investigated.

While dealing with grievances, a manager cannot depend upon any readymade solutions. Every case has to be dealt with on its merits.

The following guidelines may be followed to deal effectively with the grievances:

(i) The complainant should be given a patient hearing. He should be allowed to express himself completely.

(ii) Attempts should be made to get at the root of the problem.

(iii) The management must show its anxiety to remove the grievances of the workers.

(iv) If the grievances are real and their causes are known, attempts should be made to remove the causes.

(v) If the grievances are imaginary or unfounded, attempts should be made to counsel the workers.

(vi) Relevant facts about the grievance must be gathered to arrive at any decision.

(vii) Decision taken to redress the grievance of the worker must be communicated to him.

(viii) Follow up action should be taken to know the response of the concerned employee.


Grievance ProcedurePrerequisites

Since unredressed grievances may prove dangerous to the success of an organisation, it is necessary for an organisation to have a systematic grievance redressal procedure.

However, for a grievance redressal procedure to be effective, it should possess the following prerequisites:

1. Acceptability by all concerned

2. Simplicity, that is, easily understandable by all concerned

3. Promptness, that is, the grievance should be promptly handled

4. Adequate training to all concerned, especially to the supervisors and the union representatives

5. Time framework, that is, the decision to be taken within the time limit at every stage

6. Follow-up, that is, a periodical review of the procedure and remedial steps, if required.

However, it should be kept in view that the grievance redressal procedure should be in conformity with the existing legislation and supportive to the existing machinery.


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