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.
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:
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.
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Any employee can lodge a personal grievance against you if they feel that they’ve been:
Employees must raise the grievance within 90 days of either:
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.
There are two ways to try and resolve a personal grievance case before it goes further – through internal dispute resolution or a mediation service.
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 Employment New Zealand on 0800 20 90 20.
When you arrange a meeting about a dispute:
During the meeting:
Employment Mediation Services offers a free mediation service (external link) — or you can find an independent mediator.
Mediation is not always done in face-to-face meetings – your mediator can recommend what will be best for your situation.
Resolving problems (external link) — Employment New Zealand
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. You can also go to the ERA with an employment problem such as recovery of money from an employee.
After investigating, the ERA can eg (these things are examples, not the only things the ERA can do):
The ERA can also order you to cover your employee’s costs, or vice versa, if cost claims are lodged in writing.
Employment Relations Authority (external link) — Employment New Zealand
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.
Use our Workplace Policy Builder to create policies tailored to your workplace. The tool has tips to help you decide what to put in and leave out of your policy. You’ll also find common mistakes employers make and ways to avoid them.