You are in a business that revolves around people – clients, candidates and above all else your employees.
So what do you do when you are faced with an employee who raises a complaint or threatens to bring an Employment Tribunal claim against your business? What if you consider that their complaint has absolutely no legal basis and you feel that they are just using this to make your life difficult or try to get some form of compensation from you?
Such complaints are often highly disruptive and involve significant management and financial costs. However, ignoring the situation and having a disgruntled employee could backfire as ultimately it is your employees who have the relationship and contact with your clients and candidates. You would not want your employees to sour those relationships or worse leave and try and take those contacts with them.
What are some of the things that you can do to diffuse such a scenario? We admit, there is not a one size fits all answer to this question. Set out below are some potential options you could explore when dealing with a litigious/vexatious employee:
- Informal conversations sometimes can go a long way – Quite often, matters can be resolved through an honest and tactful conversation with the employee, before things go too far or get too formal. Such a conversation might involve asking the employee what their desired outcome is, to ascertain whether it could be accommodated. This could resolve the dispute with minimal disruption to the business. However, this approach may not always be appropriate and it should be assessed depending on the nature of the individual involved or the complaint alleged.
- Where appropriate, direct the employee towards the grievance procedure – Informal discussions may not be the best approach in all scenarios. In such cases, it would be advisable to direct the employee to start the formal grievance procedure. Whilst investigating the grievance will involve management time, should the complaint ultimately end up in an employment tribunal, the business would be able to show that it followed the correct procedures to try to resolve the employee’s concerns (provided those procedures are carried out correctly!).
- Show that you take allegations seriously – Whilst it may initially appear that an employee is being difficult or vexatious by raising their complaints, this may not always be the case. It is still important to show that you are taking the allegations seriously by conducting a proper investigation in accordance with the relevant procedures. This will allow you to make an informed determination as to whether the complaint is vexatious or genuine.
- Do not allow the employee to rehash old grievances – Where the employee has exhausted the internal grievance procedure (including appeal) but seeks to try and raise another complaint essentially on the same matter, the employee should be referred to the original grievance decision and it should be made clear that the business will not enter into any further correspondence or discussion on the matter.
- Try to be consistent – We often see that disruptive employees try to contact different people with the same concerns in the hope that they can get a different response. In cases such as these, training would be helpful for employees to be aware of whom to raise such complaints with to ensure that there is a consistent approach within the organisation where possible.
- Settlement Agreements – Where a package is offered to an employee in order to settle any complaints, consider doing this by way of a settlement agreement (even if there is no termination of the employee’s employment). Failure to do this means that technically an employee is not prevented from bringing a claim in the employment tribunal. However, a judgement will need to be made as to whether that is appropriate in the circumstances as, in order for such an agreement to be valid, an individual needs to get independent legal advice which could result in the employee asking for more in compensation following the advice they receive.
What is the best approach is a matter of judgement and should be assessed taking into account the individual in question, the complaints alleged and the potential risks to the business. However, implementing one or more of these action points could ultimately save your business time and money and avoid potential employment tribunal claims.
Our next blog in November will focus on how employers can deal with litigious/vexatious former employees who seek to try and bring claims following termination of their employment.