Greater caution exercised in launching personal grievance cases

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The number of personal grievance (PG) cases fell by 22% last year compared to 2010, indicating that employers and workers are being far more cautious in raising workplace issues, according to the Employers & Manufacturers Association (EMA).

“[The caution is likely] due to the volatile nature of the labour market - both employers and workers were being more careful and considerate of each other,” David Lowe from the EMA said. “Workers know it is hard to find another job and employers are also finding it hard to attract the right calibre of person for their firm.”

The chances of winning a PG were now finely balanced [between employers and workers] –45% of employers win their cases, Lowe said. The EMA’s annual analysis of Employment Relations Authority (ERA) decisions showed an overall decline in the number of cases and awards, but an increase in legal costs compared to previous years, he added.

“There was a 53% reduction in cases involving employees with less than 90 days service compared to 2010, which reflected the extension of the trial period law to include all businesses.  There were significant reductions in the number of PG cases for long-serving employees too,” Lowe said.

Being an EMA member also boosted an employer’s chances –61% of EMA employers successfully defend their actions, he continued.  “It now costs an employer an average $11,355 to successfully defend a PG, while to lose costs an average of $36,625. For employees, the average net amount after costs is $11,375 if they win, or a bill of $13,895 if they lose.”

Key HR takeaways


  • The Employment Relations Act defines a PG as any grievance that an employee may have against their employer, or former employer, because of unjustified dismissal, disadvantage, discrimination, harassment, or duress.
  • An employee must raise a PG with their employer within 90 days. This does not need to be done in writing. If the employee is unhappy with their employer's response, they can take the matter to the ERA.
  • It is advisable to try and resolve PG matters via mediation before they go to the ERA – which is likely to recommend mediation as a first step anyway. There are a range of mediation services available for this purpose. For more information contact the Employment Relations Service.
  • If no agreement on the PG can be reached through mediation, the matter will be referred to the ERA, which will then investigate the matter and make a decision. It is advisable to retain legal assistance throughout this process.
  • Should the ERA decide the employee does have a PG, it has the ability to order reinstatement of the employee, order reimbursement or compensation payments for the employee, and recommend changes to the employer's workplace practices.
  • It is possible to appeal against ERA decisions.



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