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Statutory procedures triple the work but lead to fewer dismissals


Many employers have seen a three-fold increase in the number of formal disciplinary and grievance cases since the introduction of a new statutory framework for workplace dispute resolution was introduced two years ago, a new study reveals.

Research published in the current issue of IRS Employment Review suggests that reforms introduced by the government in October 2004 to try to reduce the number of workplace disputes that boil over into an employment tribunal hearing are working.

The report is based on a survey of 155 organisations which together employ more than 320,000 people. Over the past two years, they had collectively held 9,231 disciplinary hearings, one in four (2,346) of which had led to the individual being dismissed.

But the study shows that while employers had heard on average 66 disciplinary cases and dealt with 19 grievances – three times as many as in a similar IRS survey last year – the number of dismissals had fallen.

Official figures show that the number of tribunal claims fell from 115,000 in 2003/04 to 86,181 in 2004/05, however commentators say it is too early to tell whether this means that disputes are being resolved at an early stage or that claimants are being ‘denied access to justice’.

Early intervention by HR into disputes between employees and their colleagues or managers may be the key to the drop in the number of dismissals.

Sarah Welfare, the researcher/writer at IRS Employment Review who wrote the report, said: “The introduction of new regulations governing how employers must handle disputes at work appears to be encouraging human resource managers to intervene earlier and more decisively to deal with problems as they arise.

“Although formal disciplinary and grievance procedures are being used more often, fewer of these are leading to people being dismissed.”

Other sanctions used by employers to deal with problem employees included transferring the individual to another job, downgrading them, suspending them without pay, or withholding pay rises and bonuses.

Although the new disputes resolution procedures are clearing causing HR practitioners more work, the research shows that they are giving the reforms a tentative thumbs-up, with 58 per cent agreeing to some extent that the regulations have made it easier to settle disputes effectively.

The survey shows that the most common causes of disciplinary action cited by employers were:

    Poor performance or lack of capability – 77 per cent

  • General misconduct – 76 per cent

  • Absence – 70 per cent

  • Poor timekeeping – 64 per cent

  • Email/internet misuse – 34 per cent

  • Theft/fraud – 32 per cent

  • Bullying or harassment – 23 per cent

The most common causes of grievances raised by employees were:

  • Relationship with line manager – 52 per cent

  • Relationship with colleagues – 47 per cent

  • Bullying or harassment – 42 per cent

  • Pay – 31 per cent

  • Grading – 28 per cent

  • Race discrimination – 10 per cent

  • Sex discrimination – 10 per cent.

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