Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Statutory grievances – good riddance or more grief?

The higher courts have become more and more vocal in their disgust at the use of the statutory grievance procedures. While the procedures ceased, except for on-going cases, in April, the courts' changing attitude may be carried over to the new ACAS code of practice.

A recent case (Mid Suffolk MHP v Hurst; Arnold v Sandwell MBC) that reached the appeal court brought out all the accumulated irritation. The grievances were on equal pay and the employer argued that the grievances were not specific enough to respond to as there was no comparator named.

The court's response was that at the first stage of a grievance that was unnecessary. The whole point of raising a grievance was to make the employer aware of a problem so that something could be done to try to rectify it. The two parties were expected to explore the matter together and at that stage it became reasonable to asked, "Who was the complainant comparing herself with?"

The matter only became a legal problem because neither the union nor the employer appeared to be interested in settling the matter informally as the law had intended.

While with the disappearance of the statutory procedures, the question of whether a comparator has to be named at stage 1 or stage 2 becomes academic, there is a hint here that the courts will try to interpret the ACAS Code to penalise those who do not seek a resolution in good faith.

Schools and colleges are advised to adopt a problem-solving stance to grievances. It may well serve them in good stead once cases begin to get into tribunals.

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