Personal grievances come in more than one flavour.
The most common one you hear about is the personal grievance for unfair dismissal.
But did you know there are nine other types of personal grievance under New Zealand law?
WHAT IS A PERSONAL GRIEVANCE ANYWAY?
Before listing off the different types, let’s be clear about what a personal grievance is.
Employees and employers alike tend to fear the term “personal grievance”. They think personal grievances relate to only the most serious issues. They may even consider it the same as going to court.
While it’s true that personal grievances can be serious, you don’t have to wait until you’re being dismissed to raise one. As already noted, an unfair dismissal is only one type of personal grievance.
Employees can feel aggrieved in other ways. It usually relates to their perception that they’ve been treated unfairly.
That then becomes a “personal grievance” when it fits into one of the categories listed below.
And it’s not inevitable that you’ll end up in a legal battle either.
The point of a personal grievance is to make the employer aware there is an issue.
That’s why employees must raise personal grievances with their employer within 90 days. That allows employers and employees to talk about their problems as soon as possible.
In other words, don’t be afraid of the term “personal grievance”. It represents categories for employees and employers to talk about issues between them.
Once a grievance is on the table, the parties can take steps to resolve the issue.
TYPES OF PERSONAL GRIEVANCES
Here is the list of personal grievances as defined in the Employment Relations Act 2000. See how many you’re familiar with.
1. Unjustified dismissal
This is the most well-known personal grievance. Employees can only be dismissed for good reason and by way of a fair process.
2. Unjustified disadvantage
Employers must not take any action that is unfair and that disadvantages employees. This covers a broad range of possible employment problems short of dismissal. For example, failures to pay bonuses or other entitlements.
Employers must not single out staff for differing treatment for unlawful reasons. It’s okay to treat staff differently in some cases – e.g. to hand out bonuses to some for good performance. But treating staff differently because of race, sex, religion, or age, for example, is not okay.
4. Sexual harassment
This covers requesting sexual favours from staff in exchange for special treatment. It also includes exposing staff to sexual material or behaviour they find offensive.
5. Racial harassment
This relates to exposing staff to racist material or behaviour.
6. Duress in relation to membership of a union
Employers are not allowed to pressure staff in relation to union membership. That includes pressuring them not to join a union at all or to join a particular union.
7. Obligations when business sold or contracted out
Employers have obligations to staff when their business is sold or contracted out. Some of those obligations must be stated in employment agreements. For vulnerable employees, such as caterers or cleaners, the obligations go further. Vulnerable employees can choose to transfer to the new employer in certain circumstances. This personal grievance relates to when those obligations are not met.
8. Agreement does not state certain things
Employment agreements must state an employee’s agreed hours of work. They must also record a fair period of notice that the employee will receive when a shift gets cancelled. And if the employee must get the employer’s permission to work a second job, it must record good reasons why. An employer cannot disadvantage staff where the agreement does not record these things.
9. Refusing to be available and inadequate notice of cancellation of shifts
Employers must not discriminate against staff who refuse to work extra hours if they have not agreed to do so. Further, the amount of notice an employer gives to cancel a shift must be reasonable.
10. Adverse treatment for health and safety reasons
Employers must not treat staff differently for reasons relating to health and safety. For example, let’s say an employee reports a health and safety matter to WorkSafe. That employee is not to be treated differently from other staff just because they made a report.
As you can see, the range of personal grievances under the Employment Relations Act is very wide.
Arguably, some of them overlap. For example, some unlawful discrimination might also qualify as an unjustified disadvantage.
But the categories highlight various types of conduct that are not tolerable within employment relationships. And their breadth may help to identify unacceptable conduct when it arises.
Identifying such conduct is the first step towards repairing bad work relationships.