Conflict and Dispute Management in Irish Employers: The Importance of Getting It Right
As various ideas, ambitions, and personalities converge in the workplace, conflicts, and disputes are unavoidable. It is critical for Employers to properly navigate these situations and address disciplinary problems through robust informal and formal investigation processes. Failure to manage these conflicts effectively can have significant repercussions, including legal consequences,
lowered Employee morale, and reputational damage. In this article we will investigate the importance of disciplinaries, conducting comprehensive investigations, and the consequences of mishandling these essential procedures.
Managing Disciplinary Procedures
Clear and compliant disciplinary policies and procedures are a crucial component of ensuring a productive workplace. Employers need to define guidelines and repercussions for Employee misconduct or poor performance. Discipline management necessitates consistency, fairness, and respect for employment laws.
The Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures includes general guidelines for the execution of grievance and disciplinary procedures, as well as the promotion of best practices in putting such procedures into operation. It highlights the significance of fair and uniform procedures, as well as the right to representation.
While the Code provides the broad principles of fair procedures for Employers and Employees, it is especially relevant in practically managing each individual scenario.
The value of clearly defined policies and procedures cannot be emphasised enough. Employers should have a detailed disciplinary policy in place that specifies the procedures to be followed when dealing with disciplinary matters and a grievance policy that determines how grievance complaints are managed. These policies should be presented to and accessible to all Employees. In turn, Employers can then be assured that Employees understand the repercussions of their
actions, create accountability, deter misconduct and know how best to address complaints/concerns.
It should be noted that Organisations should also have clear policies on Anti Bullying, Anti-Harassment and Anti Sexual Harassment in line with their separate Codes of Practice. This will aid understanding in times of conflict, which policy and procedure are most appropriate for responding to individual issues that arise.
An increase in the Rate of Conflicts and Disputes in the Workplace
Unfortunately, the occurrence of workplace conflicts and disputes is not uncommon. Further to our recent HR Pulse Barometer 7.1, findings revealed an increase from 31% of Employers experiencing a disciplinary issue in 2021 to 52% in 2022, while grievances came in at a close second with 45% of Employers citing this in 2022, up from 29% in 2021.
In fact, all categories of conflicts and disputes have seen an increase from 2021, with 24% of Employers surveyed having employment claims at the Workplace Commission/labour Court, which is an increase of 9% from 2021.
This clearly indicates a big risk for Businesses and confirms the need to ensure an understanding of what is causing this increase and more importantly to understand how to deal with it whilst protecting the impact on business growth, Employees, and company culture.
Workplace Investigations: Getting It Right
Employers have a legal obligation to undertake thorough investigations when faced with complaints of misconduct, discrimination, or harassment. An investigation's goal is to determine the facts surrounding the occurrence, preserve the rights of all parties involved, and make rational decisions based on the evidence gathered.
Despite the fact that the Workplace Relations Commission has established a Code of Practice on workplace disciplinary and grievance procedures, the Code provides no guidance on how to conduct workplace investigations.
To conduct a fair investigation, Employers must ensure the following fundamentals are adhered to.
Impartiality: The investigator of a conflict or dispute should be impartial and unbiased, avoiding any conflicts of interest or predetermined/biased opinions. If necessary, an external investigator can be engaged by the Employer to ensure objectivity.
Confidentiality: Information shared during the investigation should be treated with utmost confidentiality. This helps create a safe environment for Employees to come forward with their concerns.
Openness: Every Employee must be informed of the allegations made against him or her. The allegations should be given in writing, together with any supporting material, such as witness statements. If these are not available, the union representative or an approved representative on behalf of the Employee should seek them out. If a written investigation report is available, the Employee should be given a copy of it prior to any disciplinary hearing.
Right to Respond: The right to be heard and to respond to any charges brought against the Employee. The Employee should be given the opportunity to react to the claims. The Employer must give the Employee's explanation or remarks fair consideration. In addition to the above, the basic requirement of the ‘principles of natural justice’ is that an accused Employee be given a full and reasonable opportunity to present evidence and question all relevant witnesses.
Timeliness: Prompt action is crucial in investigations. Delayed investigations can lead to prolonged distress for those involved and may adversely impact employee morale and productivity. A view can also be taken that the situation is not serious and therefore cannot attract a serious
penalty if the Employer is seen to react slowly.
Due Diligence: An investigation should be thorough, with all relevant evidence gathered, relevant parties interviewed, and findings documented. This procedure may include evaluating papers, conducting interviews, and considering witness statements.
Workplace Investigations: Potential Consequences of Getting it Wrong.
Employers should place a premium on getting the disciplinary and inquiry processes executed correctly as failure to handle these issues effectively can have serious consequences:
Legal action: Mishandling of a disciplinary or investigation procedure by an Employer may end in legal action. This may involve claims of unfair dismissal, discrimination, or a violation of employment law, which can be time-consuming, costly, and damaging to an Employer's reputation.
Damaged Employee morale: Employees can suffer as a result of mishandling conflicts and disputes, which erodes Employee trust and confidence in the workplace. It can result in low Employee morale, increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, and an unpleasant work environment.
Reputational harm: News about poor management practices, unjust Employee treatment, or legal challenges can destroy an Employer's reputation in the eyes of future Employees, consumers, and investors. This could also have the potential to have an impact on corporate growth, client relationships, and the ability to attract top talent.
Financial costs: Legal fights and reputational harm can cost an Employer financially. This includes legal costs, compensation payouts, recruitment costs, and the loss of possible opportunities for business growth.
Our HR Pulse Barometer 7.1 published in May 2023, also revealed the amount of time spent by HR managing complaints has increased, where four in ten Organisations (45%) have seen an increase with only 8% citing that it has stayed the same. This can only distract from other vital HR areas such as promoting Employee experience, engagement, and ultimately retention of talent.
Managing conflict, conducting fair disciplinaries, and carrying out proper investigations are critical aspects of effective people management for Employers and HR departments. By establishing clear policies, adhering to employment laws, and handling these processes with care, Employers can promote a harmonious work environment, protect the rights of Employees, and minimise
potential legal and reputational risks.
Our expertise at Adare Human Resource Management can support and guide your Organisation through any conflict and disputes currently being experienced.
We can also be there to provide insights into how to prevent a potential workplace
issue from deteriorating leaving you to concentrate on fostering positive rather
than managing negative Employee Experiences.
If you require advice, guidance or training regarding conflicts and disputes in the workplace, please contact any of the Adare Human Resource Management team at (01) 561 3594 or email email@example.com for more information on how we can help and support your Business under our Partnership Programme.