Last week the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) released its annual analysis of personal grievance cases heard at the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), and it was a sorry story for employers. Over two thirds (67%) of personal grievance cases went the way of the employee, up 13% from the previous year.
Such cases can be expensive to lose. Last year, the average employer spent $34,913 on losing a personal grievance case, including awards to the employee and legal costs.
Issues relating to employee performance were the hardest for employers to win, with 85% found to have dealt with performance problems incorrectly. “A single act of unacceptable behaviour can be easy to manage. But an employee whose performance and attitude fluctuates from day to day from unacceptable, borderline and acceptable is difficult, and in the end frustrated employers often call time on them,” David Lowe, EMA’s manager of employment services, said in a statement.
Tony McKone, an employment relations specialist and HRINZ board member, said that even in firms with a well-resourced HR department to assist in employment issues, managers could act without seeking advice. “Where employers get it wrong, is when they do not seek either HR or legal assistance,” he said.
The EMA’s analysis highlighted, for McKone, the imperative for HR professionals to provide ‘sound and timely advice’ to employers that takes into account both the company’s best interests and fairness towards the employee. “Sometimes an HR professional needs to get an employer to stop what they want to do (rush to a termination or warning) and to assist them to follow a fair and reasonable approach,” he explained.
Influencing a ‘strong-willed employer’ was a necessary skill for today’s HR professional.
So how do you prevent a decision going against your employer? McKone’s advice:
First, employers should always seek advice and support before responding to an employment situation, whether this is through an internal HR department or an external consultant.
Second, have a process for dealing with conduct and employment issues and always follow that process.
Thirdly, while an employer may have formed a view of what they want to do with the errant employee, the should always keep an open mind to the employee’s explanation and be prepared to investigate that explanation to gather all the relevant facts, and to take these into consideration before making any final decision.