When a grievance is raised, an employer has a duty to investigate the grievance and as part of the grievance process, a face to face meeting is arranged to discuss the employee’s grievances in detail and obtain any further information necessary to assist with the investigation. Usually this meeting will take place after the employee has set out their complaints in writing.
When an employee raises a grievance and is absent from work due to ill-health, it is appropriate to ask the employee whether they consider themselves fit to attend a grievance meeting. If they do not believe they are fit to attend, one option is to obtain a medical report on the employee’s health which will confirm whether they are fit to attend and any adjustments that could be put in place to facilitate the employee’s attendance. This report will also be helpful in managing the employee’s sickness absence and gaining an understanding on how long they are likely to be off work in order that you can manage workload.
Employers need to give consideration as to whether the employee has a disability and if so any reasonable adjustments that need to be made. Even if the employee is not disabled, you might wish to change the venue and other arrangements for the hearing to encourage the employee to attend.
Employers need to be mindful that they have an implied obligation to offer reasonable and prompt redress of any grievance and there is an implied duty of trust and confidence. If the handling of the grievance is not given proper attention in a timely manner, the employee may argue that there is a breach of these terms entitling them to resign and claim constructive dismissal.
Generally speaking, it would be unwise to conclude a grievance investigation without meeting with the employee to allow them the opportunity to discuss their grievances. However in circumstances where the employee is on long-term sick leave and unable to attend meetings in the near future, it may be appropriate to reach a decision without a face to face meeting. It is important that you make attempts to encourage attendance and make suggestions that may make them feel more comfortable in attending. If the employee still feels unable to attend, you can ask the employee whether they are agreeable to the investigation concluding without a face to face meeting and suggest whether they wish to set out any further information in writing for consideration, The key is to be reasonable before making a decision without a face to face meeting.
In summary, the following needs to be considered:
- If the employee is not fit to attend, obtain medical evidence regarding their condition and ask the doctor for him or her opinion on whether they are fit to attend and if not, how long before they might be fit to attend
- Could reasonable adjustments be put in place to encourage the employee to attend e.g. change of venue, allowing a family member or friend to attend the meeting?
- If the employee is not agreeable to attending on a date and time given for the meeting, is it appropriate to postpone and arrange another date and time to allow them a further chance to attend?
- Does the employee have a disability? If so, are there reasonable adjustments that can be put in place?
- If the employee does not wish to attend a face to face meeting, is the employee content to answer any questions put to them in writing to assist with the investigation?
- If there is sufficient information in the written grievance, is the employee content for the investigation to be concluded without a face to face meeting?
Reasonable steps to investigate a grievance will depend on the circumstances of the case and therefore it is important to obtain legal advice. For help on conducting a grievance investigation, sickness absence management and any other employment law queries, please contact me here or on 0845 287 0939