You will be familiar with the idea that in a disciplinary process the person who is accused of wrongdoing should hear the case against them or should hear or be told the important parts of the evidence in support of that case so that they are given the opportunity to criticise or dispute that evidence and put forward their own arguments. This comes from a case of Spink -v- Express Foods Limited 1990. But what about the situation where there is a grievance investigation?
The ACAS Code is silent on this issue but focuses instead on the person who has raised the complaint. However, as part of the investigation into the complaints that that person has raised, you will need to interview anyone that they have accused of wrongdoing. For example, there may be an allegation of bullying and harassment.
One option would be to simply show the person, perhaps the line manager, the grievance letter. This is the most open and transparent position and one would hope that any line manager would behave professionally, see the grievance for what it is, and be prepared to answer those allegations in full. This position accords with the concept of ‘natural justice’ – nothing is being hidden and the accused has full opportunity to have their input to what is being said about them.
However, there may be cases where there is a concern that to take this open position would perhaps inflame or fundamentally damage the working relationship between the person who has raised the grievance and, for example, their line manager. The investigator may feel that a better approach would be to not show the full letter to the person who has been accused but rather to take them through the contents of the letter through a process of questioning so that they still have full opportunity to answer what is being said, but perhaps in doing this they can soften the language a little and take some of the ‘heat’ out of the matter. If the investigator does go down this route they will need to be skilled in questioning and make sure that they do give the full picture to the person so that they are being fair to everybody. For example, it wouldn’t be appropriate to just say ‘what happened on 5th August?’ You would need to go further and ask ‘Joe Bloggs has stated that there was an argument between the two of you on 5th August. He has said that your voice was raised and that other people noticed that you were shouting. Is that true?’
If the complainant’s letter refers to complaints against a number of different people then, again, it may be sensible to separate out the allegations so that you are only interviewing an individual about those matters that are relevant to them.
In any event, if the individual (for example, the line manager) is named in a grievance letter, strictly speaking, under the Data Protection Act, they can make a Subject Access Request requesting to see the contents of the letter. For that reason, again, the employer may want to choose the most open position.
It could also be damaging, as regards the relationship between the employer and the person who has been accused (such as the line manager), if the employer does not disclose the contents of a grievance letter. The line manager may feel that something is being hidden or that they are not being given a full opportunity to answer the case against them, even though at this stage there is no hint of a disciplinary.
The employer will need to carefully weigh all of these issues before deciding how to proceed. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.