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Resolving employment issues

Being able to recognise, understand and deal with workplace conflicts will keep you safe from personal grievance cases and minimise the impact disputes can have on your business.

Being prepared for conflicts before they happen is the best approach - which is why all your employment agreements should clearly outline how your business handles employee disputes. It is also helpful to have clear policies and procedures in place.

Try to solve problems before they escalate

Typically workplace issues don’t just disappear. In fact, it’s more common that they’ll escalate if no action is taken.

Proactively try to resolve a problem as soon as you spot one, by:

  • dealing with any employee problem openly, honestly and without misleading the employee
  • treating staff consistently and without favouritism
  • discussing the issue as soon as you’re aware of it
  • clarifying what the problem is and trying to resolve it.

If the issue is not resolved after these steps you could arrange independent mediation or go to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA). (external link) If you don’t resolve the issue, it could get worse or you could expose yourself to a personal grievance case.

Find out what you know about hiring and managing people.

What is a personal grievance

Any employee can lodge a personal grievance against you if they feel that they’ve been:

  • dismissed without justification
  • disadvantaged by an action you’ve taken
  • discriminated against
  • sexually harassed (either by someone in authority or by a co-worker)
  • racially harassed
  • pressured into joining a union or other employee organisation.

Employees must raise the grievance within 90 days of either:

  • the date the incident took place, or
  • the date they first became aware of the incident.

There’s no official way to raise the grievance – they can do it in writing or face-to-face, but it has to be sufficiently clear to make the employer aware that there is a grievance.

Resolving a personal grievance

There are two ways to try and resolve a personal grievance case before it goes further – through internal dispute resolution or a mediation service.

1. Internal dispute resolution

Like any other problem in the workplace, the first step to resolving a dispute is to meet with the person (or people) involved. You can get professional advice beforehand by calling the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE) Resolution Services on 0800 20 90 20.

When you arrange a meeting about a dispute:

  • Make sure your employee knows they can bring a support person (like a friend or partner, a lawyer or a union representative).
  • You can invite your own lawyer or industry association representative.
  • Set up the meeting with enough time to prepare beforehand and choose a time when you won’t be rushed.
  • Make sure the meeting takes place in a location where you’ll have privacy.
  • Take detailed notes of everything that’s discussed, and share them afterwards with all parties.

During the meeting:

  • Be clear about the facts — make sure the problem isn’t based on an assumption or a misunderstanding.
  • Talk to each other — you’re both responsible for this.
  • Discuss the problem fully so that everyone understands exactly what happened and how.
  • Consider whether you need help to resolve the problem.
  • If you can’t resolve the issue internally, your next step is to seek mediation.

2. Mediation services

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) offers a mediation service (external link) — or you can find an independent mediator.

Mediators:

  • are independent people who are professionally trained to help parties resolve conflict
  • can help each party identify and discuss the issues before they agree on a solution that meets both their needs.

Mediation is not always done in face-to-face meetings – your mediator can recommend what will be best for your situation.

Role of the Employment Relations Authority (ERA)

The ERA is an independent body that makes determinations on employment relationship problems, and personal grievances.

If an employee believes they have a personal grievance case against you and you can’t resolve it either internally or through mediation, they can file with the ERA.

After investigating, the ERA can:

  • refer the matter for further mediation
  • dismiss the case
  • order you to:
    • reinstate the employee
    • pay them lost wages
    • pay compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.

The ERA can also order you to cover your employee’s costs, or vice versa, if cost claims are lodged in writing.

Disagreeing with an ERA decision

If you’re unhappy with an ERA decision, you can take your case to the Employment Court. This isn’t an appeal — a new case will be opened and a full judicial hearing will be held.

Like the ERA, the Court may refer your case back to a mediator.

The Employment Court process is complicated, so you should get help from someone with Employment Court expertise, like a lawyer or union official.

Employment Court of New Zealand (external link)

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