When a grievance is vexatious
From time to time employers have to deal with an employee who raises a grievance with the desire only to create problems for the employer. In circumstances like this the grievance may in itself give rise to disciplinary action. This happened recently with a case Hope v British Medical Associationwhen a tribunal had to consider whether the employer had acted fairly when it had summarily dismissed an employee as a result of his repeated misuse of the grievance process.
Mr Hope raised a number of grievances – some about managers and some related to minor concerns. He refused to advance his grievances to a formal stage for resolution but would not withdraw them, meaning they remained outstanding. He was warned that if this conduct persisted, he might face disciplinary action which he again complained about as amounting to an abuse of the process.
In an attempt to resolve the situation a formal grievance meeting was arranged which the employee refused to attend. The meeting went ahead and it was decided that the content of his grievances had been frivolous, vexatious, disrespectful and insubordinate.
It was further considered that by refusing to attend the grievance meeting the employee should be subject to disciplinary proceedings and he was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct.
It was held that his summary dismissal was fair because the employee had brought numerous vexatious and frivolous grievances; he had refused to progress these in accordance with the formal grievance policy; and had failed to comply with a reasonable management instruction to attend a grievance meeting. His conduct had therefore led to a fundamental breakdown in working relationships.
This decision shows that employers are entitled to take action against an employee who acts in a way that abuses the grievance process and which damages relationships in the workplace but as a general rule employers should be cautious in respect of taking disciplinary action against an employee on grounds that they have raised complaints, particularly if those complaints relate to discrimination or whistleblowing.
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