Q: One of my employees has retracted a grievance. How should I respond?
A: Making a formal grievance and proceeding through the investigatory stages can be a difficult process for the people involved, especially when they work closely with the alleged perpetrator. They might believe simply retracting the grievance will make their problems go away. However, it is essential employers are addressing concerns and issues in a timely manner to stop them spiralling out of control.
It is best practice to have a clear and absolute retraction, to avoid any future issues. If the employee’s retraction has been submitted through a letter, this will usually be sufficient. However, where the retraction has been made verbally, either to the employee’s line manager or someone involved in the grievance process, the employee should be asked to confirm this in writing.
Once a written retraction has been received, the employee’s reasons for withdrawing the grievance need to be examined. Where the letter of retraction does not state the employee’s reasons for doing so, they should be written to again and asked for their reasons.
If the withdrawal is due to any informal discussions or meetings resolving the grievance, then the employer can write to the employee and confirm that the grievance process has been concluded.
Where the retraction is for another reason, for example the employee feels intimidated or worried about continuing with the grievance process, they should be invited to an informal meeting to discuss this. This meeting can be used to reassure the employee, informing them that they will not be subjected to any detriment because they have raised a grievance and that any intimidatory or threatening behaviour from any other member of staff will be treated as a serious matter.
The employee can also be given the choice of pursuing the grievance anonymously or given the option of moving roles temporarily to keep them apart from anyone they have complained about. At the end of the meeting, the employee can be asked whether they wish to continue with their retraction or if they would like to continue with the formal grievance process.
In most cases, the receipt of a grievance will highlight that there is an internal concern, either on an individual or a collective basis. If the grievance has been retracted, the employer should not stop addressing relevant matters and can continue to investigate under a formal procedure.
Where the grievance-raising employee was the only witness, this might be harder to do. However, all evidence should be sought and examined. This can include such things as any CCTV recordings. Once a full investigation has been carried out, if warranted, employers can take formal action as set out in their disciplinary policy.
Peter Done is managing director of law firm Peninsula