Disputes in the workplace

Information and guidance on managing and resolving disputes and grievances in the workplace.

Managing disputes in the workplace fairly and consistently

In any workplace, there can be occasions when matters of concern are raised by employees and/or managers, which can cause conflict between the parties involved.

Conflict in the workplace tends to fall into 2 broad categories

  • between individuals involving colleagues or employees and their managers, or
  • between groups involving teams or large groups of employees and management.

Always try to resolve the issues informally, but if informal discussion does not lead to early resolution of the conflict, and the dispute becomes formal, the employer must follow steps which are fair, open and transparent to reach a formal resolution.

Not following policies and process in a fair, consistent and transparent manner can result in relationship breakdown and application to an employment tribunal (ET).

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has published a Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. This provides basic practical guidance for employers.

If a dispute is not managed well and an ET application is made, failure to follow the Code does not, in itself, make an employer automatically at fault. However, employment tribunals will take the Code into account when considering relevant cases.

Policy and process for discipline and grievance matters

It is important that the individual raising concerns is confident that the organisation acknowledges their right to raise any concerns, and has a policy and process in place to address and resolve disciplinary and grievance issues.

It is also important that the organisation acts promptly and follows the policy and process in a fair, consistent and transparent manner, encouraging open and honest communication at all levels.

For this reason, it is important to have a written policy for handling disciplinary and grievance situations, setting out rules which are fair, specific, clear and which consider

  • dealing with issues promptly and explaining reasonable timescales
  • the importance of keeping records and confidentiality
  • assigning clear roles and responsibilities for all those involved, such as employee, manager and investigating officer
  • acting consistently in all cases of discipline and grievance
  • carrying out fair and thorough investigations
  • procedures on informing employees of the basis for the dispute
  • procedures on clearly providing the opportunity for all relevant parties to put their case forward
  • allowing the employee to be accompanied to any formal meetings and explaining who this person could be
  • procedures for appealing against any formal decisions.