Conflict between employees in the workplace can unfortunately be a common occurrence.  They can arise for various reasons including personality conflicts, professional disagreements, or different personal views.

MIGA regularly receives calls from clients for assistance in managing disputes between employees.  Getting this process right as an employer can often be confusing, as you attempt to navigate and resolve disputes.  Achieving a safe and healthy work environment while ensuring the rights of employees are protected can be a balancing act.

To best achieve this balance, you need to have a clear, fair and accessible dispute resolution policy/procedure in place.  These processes should always ensure confidentiality is adhered to by all parties involved.  If staff do not know how to report concerns, you may need to provide some education to all staff on your policies and processes.

Receiving complaints/notifications  
The first stage of management might seem obvious, but it is an important part to get right.  Where do your staff go to report concerns/disputes?

This may change, depending on the size of your practice, but there always needs to be a clear pathway for lodging complaints.  Ordinarily this would be through an immediate supervisor/line manager, or to a Practice Manager, but where that individual may be part of the dispute, what plans are in place to manage disputes?

You need to consider who might be appropriate in those circumstances to allow staff to feel safe and comfortable raising concerns in the workplace.  In some circumstances, this may need to go through the owner or a director/partner of the practice.

Managing the complaint 
Complaints should always be handled with sensitivity and confidentiality.  Failing to do so can lead staff to mistrust the process, and cause hesitancy in reporting.  Delayed reporting of disputes can often result in irreparable relationship breakdown, so having a clear process that staff trust can assist with early intervention.

Where a complaint or dispute notification verges on bullying, it is important that any investigation is similarly kept confidential, for the benefit of both the complainant and the accused bully.

In these circumstances, swift action is needed, to ensure a safe workplace and also to avoid potential industrial action.  The accused individual needs to be informed of the allegations and details in a timely manner.  It is not appropriate to simply inform them there has been a complaint.  They need to be given details of the allegations as soon as possible.  The most common mistake we see is delays providing details to the accused.  The lack of information often causes greater stress and upset which can make managing the complaint difficult.  Failing to do so may also give rise to industrial action against the practice.

It can be tempting to undertake all of your other investigations before notifying and informing the accused.  However, generally this is not recommended.  It can be difficult, if there is a delay, for the victim to continue working with the accused, and the accused can often feel that they have been unfairly targeted or that they are not being allowed due process.

When informing staff of a complaint against them, particularly a serious allegation, it is important that you not suggest any decision has been made.  Go into these investigations with an open mind.

Where potential disciplinary action is on the cards, the accused should be informed of this in advance of any meeting, and offered the opportunity to bring a support person to that meeting.

After making a decision 
Your decision may be to take disciplinary action, or to attempt to mediate the relationship between the two disputing parties.  Disciplinary action should again be clearly communicated to the staff member, with reasons provided as to how the decision was reached.  The appropriate disciplinary action will depend on each situation.

Mediating a dispute between staff can be a tricky process, and depending on the dispute, it may warrant you seeking external assistance in conducting the mediation.

A final suggestion is that solutions and decisions should always be in writing, whether taking disciplinary action or resolving a conflict.  It may be tempting to manage these informally, but when occasions arise that escalate matters to industrial action, a written, contemporaneous record can be the best defence for a practice’s actions.

If you require assistance and guidance when dealing with workplace disputes and complaints, please call us early in the process.

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