Lesson: 43

Title: We have a problem! : Employee Grievances

Topics to be covered:

• Definition
• Nature
• Forms
• Identifying Grievances
• Causes
• Effects
• Establishing a grievance procedure
• Guidelines for effective Grievance handling
• Model Grievance procedure
• Essentials of a grievance procedure
• Checklist for grievance handling
• Article: “ Grievance procedure for permanent employees in TISCO”
• Article: “ Practical tips for Mediation”
• Article: “Resolving Complaints”
• Case study: “Ram Avatar”

Today we are going to discuss grievances. So are you ready with your list! I am sure you will
have a long one. In fact we are so much used to cribbing and complaining that we forget the
good things of life. We take them for granted!!

All right enough of thought provocation!! Let us begin with today’s discussion.

So what is your idea of a grievance?

Expressions such as problem, discontentment, deep problem etc. can be used to describe a
grievance. However please note that dissatisfaction or discontent per se is not a grievance.
They initially find expression in the form of a complaint. When a complaint remains
unattended and the employee concerned feels a sense of lack of justice and fair play, the
dissatisfaction grows and assumes the status of a grievance.

Dissatisfaction: maybe defined as anything that disturbs an employee, whether or nor
such unrest is expressed in word e.g. engineers and technicians may be upset because they are
suddenly instructed to observe regular hours.

Complaint: It is a spoken or written dissatisfaction, brought to the attention of the
supervisor and the union leader. The complaint may or may not specially assign a cause for
dissatisfaction e.g. “four times this morning I have had to chase around looking for the pliers”.

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Grievance: It is simply a complaint, which has been formally presented in writing, to a
management representative or a union official. However for most of the people, the word
“grievance” suggests a complaint that has been ignored, overridden or dismissed without due

ILO defines a grievance as a complaint of one or more workers related to:

- Wages and allowance
- Conditions of work
- Interpretation of service conditions covering such as OT, Leave, Transfer,
Promotion, Seniority, Job Assignment & Termination of Service”

The National Commission on Labour Observed that “Complaints affecting one or more
individual workers in respect of their workers

- Wage payments, OT, Leave, Transfer Promotion, Seniority, Work Assignment &
Discharges Constitute Grievances”.

Let us examine another definition of grievance.


According to Michael Jucius, “ A grievance can be any discontent or dissatisfaction, whether
expressed or not, whether valid or not, and arising out of anything connected with the company
that an employee thinks, believes, or even feels as unfair, unjust, or inequitable.”

Let us understand this definition. A grievance means any discontentment or dissatisfaction
in an employee arising out of anything related to the enterprise where he is working. It
may not be expressed and even may not be valid.

It arises when an employee feels that something has happened or is going to happen which is
unfair, unjust or inequitable. Thus, a grievance represents a situation in which an employee
feels that something unfavorable to him has happened or is going to happen. In an industrial
enterprise, an employee may have grievance because of long hours of work, non-fulfillment of
terms of service by the management, unfair treatment in promotion, poor working facilities,

Now let us go a step further by discussing the nature of grievance.

Nature of Grievance:

Grievances are symptoms of conflicts in the enterprise. Just like smoke could mean fire,
similarly grievances could lead to serious problem if it is not addressed immediately! So they
should be handled very promptly and efficiently.

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Coping with grievances forms an important part of any job. The manner in which a manager
deal with grievances determines his efficiency of dealing with subordinates. A manager is
successful if he is able to build a team of satisfied workers by removing their grievances.

While dealing with grievances of subordinates, it is necessary to keep in mind the following

• A grievance may or may not be real.
• Grievance may arise out of not one cause but multifarious causes.
• Every individual does not give expression to his grievances.

Please understand that complaints of employees relating to interpretation and implementation
of agreements, labour legislations, various personnel policies, rules and regulations, past
practices, code of conduct are very much grievances.

Another point that needs to be noted here is that the grievances may relate to either one
employee (individual grievances) or group of employees (group grievances). Individual and
group grievances are to be redressed through grievance procedure, which we would be
studying in detail a little later in the class. Individual employee or group of employees
concerned and manager concerned play vital role in grievance procedure.

Now let me ask you a question. What do you think is the difference between grievance and
conflict? Are they the same? Can they be used interchangeably?

Now that is more than one question!

Anyway, Please understand that differences between employees and employers relating to
various personnel policies, wage levels and variety of benefits, awards, rules and regulations
are conflicts. Conflicts are to be settled through collective bargaining. Trade unions and
management participate in collective bargaining for settling disputes. Thus, conflicts have
wider policy implications as compared to grievances.

We discussed in the definition of grievance that it may be valid or not. Now don’t tell me that
you have forgotten the definition!

Let us understand, why we talk about validity.

We can get some insight on that by studying the forms of Grievances.

A grievance may take any of the following forms:

• Factual,
• Imaginary,
• Disguised.

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Factual: When an employee is dissatisfied with his job, for genuine or factual reasons like a
breach of terms of employment or any other reasons that are clearly attributed to the
management, he is said to have a factual grievance. Thus, factual grievances arise when the
legitimate needs are unfulfilled. The problem that he has is real and not virtual

Imaginary: When an employee’s grievance or dissatisfaction is not because of any factual or
valid reason but because of wrong perception, wrong attitude or wrong information he has.
Such a grievance is called an imaginary grievance. Though it is not the fault of management,
the responsibility of dealing with it still rests with the management. So the problem is not real.
It is in the mind or just a feeling towards someone or something.
So be careful your grievances could be very much imaginary!

Disguised: An employee may have dissatisfaction for reasons that are unknown to himself.
This may be because of pressures and frustrations that an employee is feeling from other
sources like his personal life. I am sure you will agree that if you have fought at home and
come to the institute, you cannot concentrate in the class. Similarly if you have had a bad day
in the institute, that will reflect in the mood at home. We are all humans and are sensitive to the
environment that we operate in!

The managers have to detect the disguised grievances and attend to them by counseling the
concerned employees. They have to find out the root cause of the problem rather than find
quick fix solutions to them.

Forms of Grievances

Factual Imaginary Disguised

Now that brings us to another important issue that is identifying Grievances.

Identifying grievances:

It is so beautifully described that good management redresses grievances as they arise;
excellent management anticipates and prevents them from arising. An effective manager thus
has to be proactive. A manager can know about the problems even before they turn into actual
grievances through several means such as:

• Exit interviews
• Suggestions boxes
• Opinion surveys
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• Open door policy.

Let us discuss this on by one in details:

(a) Exit interview: Employees usually quit organizations due to dissatisfaction or better
prospects elsewhere. Exit interviews, if conducted carefully, can provide important information
about employees’ grievances. This can help the management to gather feedback and to
genuinely incorporate feedback. The management should carefully act upon the information
drawn from such employees .It should be careful that the discontentment is reduced so that no
more employees quit the organization because of similar reasons.

(b) Gripe Boxes: These are boxes in which the employees can drop their anonymous
complaints. They are different from the suggestion boxes in which employees drop their named
suggestion with an intention to receive rewards It is normally said that if you want to progress
in life, you should be close to critics. These gripe boxes can perform the role of critics for the
organisation. The management should carefully act upon the information thus gathered. Now I
don’t want to sound repetitive by saying that the internal customers of an organisation should
be satisfied if the external customers are to be kept happy.

© Opinion Survey: The management can be proactive by conducting group meetings,
periodical interviews with employees, collective bargaining sessions etc. through which one
can get information about employees’ dissatisfaction before it turns into a grievance.

(d) Open-door Policy. Some organisation extend a general invitation to their employees to
informally drop in the manager’s room any time and talk over their grievances. This can be
very effective because it ca n nip the evil in the bud. That is it can take care of the problem
before it gets out of hand. In fact the management should hold formal and informal get together
with the employees. The management should also remember that the employees might just
need a patient hearing at times. They need blow off the steam as we hear it more commonly.

Summarising the identification of grievances.

Identifying Grievances

Exit Interview Gripe Boxes Opinion Surveys Open door policy
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What leads to a grievance?

Let us discuss the causes of grievances

In order to handle the grievances efficiently, it is necessary to find and analyse the grievances
of the subordinates. If a grievance is found to be genuine or real (factual), the corrective
action should be taken immediately. But if the grievance arises due to imagination or
disturbed frame of mind of the worker, then it is necessary to explain and clear up the matter.
Before dealing with the grievances, their causes must be diagnosed. But when the grievances
are not given expression by the subordinates, it is manager’s job to detect the possible
grievances and their causes. He may realise the existence of grievances because of high
turnover, high rate of absenteeism and poor quality of work. These problems will go on
multiplying if the causes of grievances are not cured.

The causes of grievances may be broadly classified into the following categories:

(1) Grievances resulting from working conditions

(i) Improper matching of the worker with the job.
(ii) Changes in schedules or procedures.
(iii) Non-availability of proper tools, machines and equipment for doing the job.
(iv) Unreasonably high production standards.
(v) Poor working conditions.
(vi) Bad employer – employee relationship, etc.

(2) Grievances resulting from management policy

(i) Wage payment and job rates.
(ii) Leave.
(iii) Overtime.
(iv) Seniority and Promotional.
(v) Transfer.
(vi) Disciplinary action.
(vii) Lack of employee development plan.
(viii) Lack of role clarity.

(3) Grievances resulting from personal maladjustment

(i) Over – ambition.
(ii) Excessive self-esteem or what we better know as ego.
(iii) Impractical attitude to life etc.

Let us see what can you add to this list.
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Coming on to the effects of Grievances. Some of the effects have been listed below.

Effects of Grievances:

Low Productivity
Increase in Wastage & Costs
In discipline
Labour unrest

Let me now throw some light on establishing a grievance procedure.

This may sound a little boring to you but it is necessary for you to be aware of it as HRM

It is advisable to set up an effective grievance procedure in the organization. The procedure
should be flexible enough to meet the requirements of the organization. It should be simple so
that an average employee is able to understand it. Though such a procedure will vary in
different organizations, yet the following principles should be observed while laying down a

(1) A grievance should be dealt with in the first instance at the lowest level: that is, an
employee should raise his grievance with his immediate superior. It may be simple to settle it
on the spot and that will be the end of it. Even if it cannot be settled at that level, the man’s
superior will know what is happening. This is necessary not only to maintain his authority, but
also to prevent him from being aggrieved, as he will certainly be, if he is by-passed and hears
of the complaint from his own superior.

(2) It must be made clear to the employee what line of appeal is available. If he cannot get
satisfaction from his immediate superior, he should know the next higher authority to which he
can go.

(3) Since delay causes frustration and tempers may rise and rumors spread around the work, it
is essential that grievances should be dealt with speedily. As it is said that a stitch in time saves
nine, similarly the problems of the employees should be taken care of by the management least
it should become a major for the management.
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(4) The grievance procedure should be set up with the participation of the employees and it
should be applicable to all in the organisation. The policies and rules regarding grievances
should be laid down after taking inputs from the employees and it should be uniformly
applicable to all in the organisation. It should be agreed that there would be no recourse to the
official machinery of conciliation unless the procedure has been carried out and there is still
dissatisfaction, and moreover, there must be no direct action on either side, which might
prejudice the case or raise tempers while the grievance is being investigated.

Can you explain to me that why do we need to take inputs from the employees while framing
the policies? Yes… it is necessary because it is going to be applicable to the employees and not
only that; if the employees have contributed to the policies then their commitment is higher.

Have you read something about the Open – Door Policy and the step- ladder procedure of

Let me explain them to you one by one.

Open door policy:

Under this policy, any employee can take his grievance to the chief boss and talk over the
problem. As the name suggests, the management keeps its doors open for the employees to
share their problems. It is said that this policy can remove the cause of grievance quickly.
Though this policy appears to the attractive, it has some prerequisites.
The open door policy is workable only in small organizations. In big organizations, the top
management does not have the time to attend to innumerable routine grievances daily that is
the work of lower-level mangers.

Under this policy, the front-line supervisor who should be the first man to know about the
grievances of his subordinates is by passed. This provokes him in two ways. First, he thinks the
man who skipped him is disrespectful. Secondly, he fears that he will incur his superior’s
displeasure because of his failure to handle his subordinates will interpret this.

Step-Ladder Procedure

Under the step-ladder procedure, the employee with a grievance has to proceed step by step
unless he is able to redress his grievance. According to the Model Grievance Procedure, an
aggrieved employee shall first present his grievance verbally in person to the officer designated
by the management for this purpose. An answer shall be given within 48 hours. If he is
dissatisfied with the answer, the worker will present his grievance to the head of the
department, who will give his answer within 3 days. If the worker is dissatisfied with the
answer, he may ask that his grievance should be referred to the Grievance Committee, which
shall make its recommendations within 7 days to the manger. The management must
implement unanimous recommendations of this committee. A dissatisfied worker can apply to
the management for a revision of its decision within on week’s time.
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Let us summarise the procedure in the form of a diagram.

Step No. 1

Step No. 2

Step No. 3

Step No. 4

Step No. 5

Last Step

Filling of Written
Supervisor or
Head of
Joint Grievance
Step – ladder Grievance Procedure.


The Model Grievance Procedure was formulated in pursuance to the Code of discipline
adopted by the 16
Session of the Indian Labour Conference in 1958. Most of the grievance
procedures now a day are built around the Model Grievance Procedure with certain changes to
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suit the size and special requirements of an enterprise. The model Grievance Procedure
provides for five successive time-bound steps. These are as under:

(1) An aggrieved employee shall first present his grievance verbally in person to the officer
designated by the Management for this purpose. An answer shall be given to him within 48
hours of the presentation of the complaint.

(2) If the worker is not satisfied with the decision of this officer or fails to receive an answer
within the stipulated period, he shall in person or by his departmental representative, if
required, present his grievance to the head of the department designated by the management for
this purpose. And he will get the answer within 3 days of the presentation of his grievance.

(3) If the decision of the departmental head is unsatisfactory, the aggrieved worker may request
the forwarding of his grievance to the Grievance Committee, which shall make its
recommendations to the management within 7 days of the worker’s request. The final decision
of the management shall be communicated to the worker within the stipulated period (3 days)
by the Personnel Officer.

(4) A revision of his grievance can be done if the decision is not satisfactory. The management
shall communicate its decision within a week.

(5) If no agreement is possible the union and the Management may refer the grievance to
voluntary arbitration within a week from the date of receipt by the worker of the management’s

In the above-mentioned procedure the following points should be noted:

• Calculating the various time intervals under the above clauses, holidays shall not be

• The Management shall provide the necessary clerical and other assistance for the
smooth functioning of the grievance machinery.

• During the working time, the concerned person may go for enquiry with the
Labour/personnel Officer, provided the he has taken permission from his supervisor.
Hence he may not suffer any loss of payment.

In the case of any grievance arising out of the discharge or dismissal of a worker, the above
procedure shall not apply. If it is so, he may appeal wither to the dismissing authority or to a
senior authority within a week from the date of dismissal or discharge.

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I hope you are not tired ….

We will discuss only two more topics today. Our task will be easier as these topics are inter-

So coming to the second last one for today!!

Guidelines for Effective Grievance Handling:

While dealing with grievances, a manager cannot depend upon some ready-made, solutions.
Every case has to be dealt with on merit. The following guidelines may help to deal effectively
with the grievances:

• The complaint should be given a patient hearing by his superior. He should be allowed
to express himself completely. The management should be empathetic.

• The superior should try to get at the root of the problem. It should be remembered that
symptoms are not the problems. It should also be noted that if there are symptoms,
there would be a problem as well.

• The management must show it anxiety to remove the grievances of the workers. The
workers should feel that the management is genuinely interested in solving its

• If the grievances are real and their causes located, attempts should be made to remove
the causes.

• If the grievances are imaginary or unfounded, attempts should be made to convince the

• Every grievance must be handled within the reasonable time limit. I am sure you will
agree with this. Imagine you have a genuine problem and you share it with the
authorities. You will also expect immediate action taken to take care of your problem.

• All grievances should be put into writing. Some proofs required as well….

• Relevant facts about the grievance must be gathered. The management should not

• Decision taken to redress the grievance of the worker must be communicated to him.

• Follow up action should be taken to know the response of the forced employee. This is
to make sure that he is happy or not! At the end of the day the satisfaction of the
aggrieved party is necessary.

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Now the grand finale……


A grievance procedure should incorporate the following features:

1. Conformity with existing legislation: The procedure should be designed in
conformity with the existing statutory provisions. Where practicable, the procedure can
make use of such machinery as the law might have already provided for.

2. Acceptability: Everybody must accept the grievance procedure. In order to be
generally acceptable, it must ensure the following:

• A sense of fair-play and justice to the worker,
• Reasonable exercise of authority to the manager, and
• Adequate participation of the union.

3. Simplicity: The following points should be noted in this regard:

• The procedure should be simple enough to be understood by every employee.
• The steps should be as few as possible.
• Channels for handling grievances should be carefully developed.
• Employees must know the authorities to be contacted at various levels.
• Information about the procedure should be thoroughly disseminated among all
employees through pictures, charts, diagrams, etc.

4. Promptness: Speedy settlement of a grievance is the cornerstone of a sound personnel
policy. It should be remembered that justice delayed is justice denied. The procedure
should aim at a rapid disposal of the grievance. This can be achieved by incorporating
the following feature in the procedure:

(a) As far as possible, grievances should be settled at the lowest level
(b) No matter should ordinarily be taken up at more than two levels, i.e. normally
there should be only one appeal.
(c) Different types of grievances may be referred to appropriate authorities.
(d) Time limit should be placed at each step and it should be rigidly followed at
each level.

5. Training: In order to ensure effective working of the grievance procedure, it is
necessary that supervisors and the union representatives should be given training in
working of the grievance procedure. All the policies should be conveyed to the
concerned parties.
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6. Follow-up: The personnel department should review the working of the grievance
procedure periodically and necessary changes should be introduced to make it more
effective. This is generally ignored by the organizations. A regular follow up of the
system increase the faith of the people in the system. Therefore it is necessary that the
grievance procedure should be reviewed whenever it is so required.

Please note that there can be a shortcut to handling Grievances. Let us study this in the form a

Checklist for Handling Grievances:

1. Let the Employee Talk

Put the employee at ease
Listen him in private
Listen with sincere interest
Do not argue
Probe for the real grievance
Get all the details
Check the employees story
Take notes
Repeat the grievance in your own words.
Tell the employee when he will get an answer.

2. Check the Facts

Consult others
Refer to the written policy
Consider the employee’s view point
Look at the employee’s record

3. Telling the Employee

Be willing to admit mistake
Give the benefit of doubt
If the employee’s grievance is unfounded explain
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Keep your cool
Prepare the case for appeal.

4. Follow Through

Take prompt action to correct the cause of the grievance
Check with employer
Don’t let it happen twice.

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Reading 1

(Source: Chaturvedi, Abha, Achieving Harmonious Industrial Relations. The Times
Research Foundation, 1987, pp. 197-198.)


In so far as the grievances of the workers are concerned, the issues and interpretation of
policies are discussed only at the top management level. The union, however, has the right to
take up such matters at the Central Works Committee. Those cases which are pending with the
Works committee are not discussed at any other level till the case is withdrawn from the Works


The grievance procedure normally deals with matters relating to amenities/facilities, continuity
of service, compensation, discharge/dismissal, fines, increment, leave, medical benefits,
misconduct, nature of job, promotion, safety, suspension, transfer, victimization, warning

Stage I

The employee should discuss it with his shift-in-charge or an equivalent. In cases of appeal
against punishment, the employee should meet his general foreman or an equivalent. If
necessary, he should fill up the Grievance From I and submit it to the general foreman, who
should immediately give the acknowledgement receipt, should make the necessary enquiries
and return the form with his remarks or those of the departmental head within two days. If the
case requires reference to higher authorities, the time limit may be relaxed.

Stage II

If the employee is still dissatisfied with the decision, he can appeal to the head of the
department directly on Grievance Form II within three days of receiving the reply from the
general foreman. Cases of suspension may be submitted within a week of the receipt of
suspension order of the decision at Stage I.
The departmental head will pass an order within three working days.

Stage III

If the employee is not satisfied with the decision at Stage II, he may appeal to the chairman of
the Zonal Works Committee on an ordinary paper or a Grievance Form III within a week of the
reply received at Stage II. Appeals against discharge/dismissal have to be addressed only to the
chairman of the Zonal Works Committee within two months of the receipt of the orders of
discharge or dismissal. Based on the committee’s unanimous recommendations to which no
objection is raised by management or the union, the management will decide the case within
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ten days of the receipt of such recommendations. The unanimous recommendations of the
Zonal Works Committee, though not an executive order, shall be deemed to in the nature of a
final decision in the matter. Where its recommendations are not unanimous, the Zonal
Committee will refer the matter to the Central or Special Works Committee.

Reading 2

(Source: http://www.dir.nsw.gov.au/workplace/practice/griev_handling.html)
How should I handle a grievance? : Practical tips for mediation
1. Deal with the grievance promptly: If it looks like you are avoiding discussing the
matter, unnecessary anxieties can occur. Initiate discussion quickly and investigate all
the facts. Double-check them.
2. Be accessible: Make sure your employees know how to use the procedures. Encourage
complaints! Seeing the grievance procedure working effectively is the best
advertisement you can have for resolving workplace grievances.
3. Informality: Discussions should be held in a non-threatening atmosphere. Verbal is
better than written. No one should receive a printed form letter in response to a
problem. Remember, when such a letter is perceived as “legal”, your employee may
feel they need “legal” assistance.
4. Be consistent: Having policies and procedures in place means that all employees are
treated in the same way.
5. Admit errors: If you have acted incorrectly or inappropriately – say so! Then fix the
6. Closure: Decide your response/action and give a full explanation. This allows the
matter to be finalised.
7. Learn from it: The resolution of this grievance should give you practical insight in
how to deal with this situation (and possibly others) in the future.

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Reading 3
(Source: http://www.bcentral.com/articles/krotz/192.asp)
Resolving complaints
The best way to clear the air of complaints is to focus on problems before they fester. These
five strategies make that easier:
1. Watch your tongue. The way you react to a complaint immediately sets a tone.
Managers often discourage employees from telling them what's wrong by subtle threats
or outright punishment. In that case, "the complaints go underground, surfacing as
water cooler conversation and e-mails that reek of Dilbert-esque cynicism," says Larry
Johnson, co-author of "Absolute Honesty."
Don't trivialize the grievance, even if it's a noisy protest about the lack of a cappuccino
machine in the lunchroom. You don't have to remedy every complaint, but you should
be courteous. "Employees want to be heard, so open by saying, 'I appreciate, I respect, I
understand why you might feel that way,'" says Jay Arthur, author of "Motivate
2. Recognize the individual. Don't let complaints slide on slick reassurances or one-size-
fits-all platitudes. Respond to the specific employee and his particular beef. "I've found
that in a large majority of cases, employee complaints can be traced to their
temperament," says Brad Cooper, a motivational coach based in Littleton, Colo. "So
when addressing employee issues, it's critical to tune in to those individual needs, not
some generic response."

3. Direct traffic. Set up a formal process for submitting grievances that's communicated
to everyone.
To avoid legal pitfalls, clearly define the process and ensure that it's private and moves
toward an outcome or resolution. "Supervisors should set a time in which to respond,"
says management consultant John Reddish at Advent Management in Chadds Ford, Pa.
He suggests responses such as:
o "Good point. We can fix that." Then identify and document how.
o "Can you clarify your complaint and/or get me more facts by [such-and-such
time]... so I can better evaluate or act on it."
o "We can't change the situation and here's why... " Explain your company policy.
After that, don't forget to update HR or any appropriate managers.

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4. Be consistent. "No employee likes secrets or surprises," says Tim Dimoff, whose
SACS Consulting firm in the Cleveland area counsels companies on such issues as
employee drug abuse and workplace violence.
The way around accusations of favoritism, pleas of ignorance or similar unrest is by
citing the policies of a formal employee handbook or manual. Most small-business
owners can't be bothered to write one. But it's in their best interest. "Owners can't
remember what they tell everyone they hire," Dimoff says. So every employee works
with different rules and guidelines on compensation, vacation, sick leave, harassment or
discriminatory behavior and on and on.
"It's all about communication," Dimoff says. "Companies that respond to a complaint,
investigate it and don't let it go by will stop it from growing."
5. Send the right message. To truly create an atmosphere that rewards employees for
coming forward, you need to make it comfortable. Lip service won't do. There are
dozens of ways to achieve that, of course. Attorney Michel’s suggests periodic "town
meetings." "In a small business, it's easier to get everyone in a room and get employee
buy-in," he says.
The CEO might talk about business trends, worries he has, the impact of international
events — basically, a casual "state of the company" address. "In the course of the
meeting, he might ask, 'What else would you like us to address?'" Michels says. He
might also invite employees to talk to him later, privately, if something's on their mind.
"The best companies are places where the chain of communication goes both ways,"
Michels says.
Obviously, all complaints aren't created equal. But ignoring them altogether can only cause
damage. Start working on that manual.

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Case study


Ram Avatar works as a helper in the Machine shop of a large engineering company. His work
involves loading machines, arranging materials and also cleaning the machines. Recently Ram
Avatar has noticed that he is required to spend much more time cleaning machines than are the
other helpers. Since this is the least pleasant and lowest -status of all his tasks, he thinks it is
unfair that he should have to do so much of it.

When Ram Avatar discusses his problems with the supervisor, Sharma, he is told that job
assignments are arranged in order to use the workforce more efficiently. All helpers are hired
with the understanding that they will be doing one or all of the tasks noted above. Sharma feels
that some of the other men are more skilled in handling the material and feeding machines. So
it seems a better use of manpower to have Ram Avatar spend more of his time cleaning

Unsatisfied by Sharma’s answer, Ram Avatar considers calling in the union for help. He
hesitates for a while; for fear that such a step may antagonize his supervisor and win him the
reputation of troublemaker. Then he decides that, after all, help is what he pays dues for. So
Ram Avatar talks to the union representative for the machine shop, who happens to work in an
adjacent building. The representative discusses the problem with Sharma and reports back to
Ram Avatar the next day.

Sharma refuses to do anything. He says it’s his job to make decisions like this one, and he is
not trying to discriminate against you. I’m not satisfied with his answer; I’ll see the general
Secretary tonight at the union meeting and see what he says.”

The representative goes to the General Secretary and describes the case. Here is the General
Secretary’s reaction:

“This is not a simple case; we have to be careful. In the first place we have to consider the
reaction of the other men in the department. Ram Avatar is the newest employee; they may get
pretty sore if more of this cleaning work is thrown at them. Secondly, the whole thing may
backfire. Our present agreement is weak on this point. Here is actually nothing to prevent the
company from changing a man’s work, and if they start giving him a lot of the dirty jobs if
they want to be meaning about it, they might be able to justify paying him less money since his
work may now be less skilled than before. But only chance to win would be if we could show
that the supervisor was doing this to Ram Avatar because he didn’t like him. That would be
covered by clause 14. Discuss it with Ram Avatar, and if he has some evidence on this, get him
to sign a grievance.”

Ram Avatar agrees to sign the formal grievance papers charging Sharma with discrimination.
He notes on the printed form that his assignment to excessive clearing duties followed an
argument with Sharma over new uniforms. “When I complained that my uniform (supplied by
the company) was too torn, Sharma said I was always complaining and ought to have
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something to really complain about for a change”. The grievance is also signed by the
representative the supervisor himself signs it, but only after adding this note: Grievance refused
- employee has not been discriminated against.” Then in the General Secretary sends the
grievance to the plant manager, asking for an appointment to talk over the matter.

After the manager receives the grievance, he calls in the supervisor, Sharma to get his version
of the case. He also checks with the GM – Personnel to see whether similar cases have
established precedents in this area that would affect the settlement.

The manager is at first concerned that this might be a cause for discrimination. The company
has a firm policy that no supervisor is to allow personal feelings to enter into personnel
decisions. Having satisfied himself that Sharma was right, the manager feels that he cannot
grant the grievance. To do so would be to open the door to a stream of union challenges of
work assignments. The manager tells the general Secretary that even though a man may feel he
is getting more than his share of unpleasant jobs, it is up to the supervisor to make such
decisions in accordance with his own work requirements and the available manpower. So while
he will caution Sharma to make sure such assignments are dictated by work needs and not by
his personal feelings toward particular employees, the grievance will have to be refused. The
manager’s answer to the grievance is, “No agreement violation, supervisor was acting within
normal management prerogatives.”

Question 1) Does Ram Avatar have a grievance?
Question 2) Why does the union think that it is a weak case?
Question 3) Explain the way the supervisor has handled the case?
Question 4) If you were the supervisor, how would you have handled the case?

Case prepared based on the book “Personnel: The Human problems of Management” by
George Strauss and Leonard R. Sayles.

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Employee Grievances

According to Michael Jucius, “ A
grievance can be any discontent or
dissatisfaction, whether expressed or
not, whether valid or not, and arising
out of anything connected with the
company that an employee thinks,
believes, or even feels as unfair, unjust,
or inequitable”

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Forms of grievance
• Factual
• Imaginary
• Disguised

• Exist Interviews
• Suggestion Boxes
• Opinion Surveys
• Open door policy
Identifying grievances

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Causes of grievances
• Working Conditions
• Management policy
• Personal Mal adjustments

Step Ladder Procedure
Filling or Written
Supervisor or
Head of Department
Joint Grievances
Chief Executive
Step No. 2
Step No. 2
Step No. 2
Step No. 2
Step No. 2
Step No. 2

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Guidelines for effective
grievance Handling:
• Patient hearing by superior
• Rest of the Problem
• Anxiety to solve problem
• If- Remove causes
• If imaginary - convince workers
• Time limit
• Writing the grievance
• Relevant facts
• Communication of redressed
• Follow up-Action

Essentials of a grievance
• Conformity with existing legislation
• Acceptability
• Simplicity
• Promptness
• Training
• Follow-up

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