There are no strict legal rules which apply when an employee raises multiple grievances. If the grievances are related, an employer might be in a position to refuse to hear a new grievance on the grounds that the matter has already been the subject of a grievance procedure. If the grievances are unrelated, an employee is expected to act reasonably and to take all steps that are required as a reasonable employer to investigate the grievance. If the employer has a concern regarding the mental stability of the employee, the employer could consider whether it is appropriate to ask the employee to undergo a medical or occupational health assessment before engaging in the grievance process. However, employers should proceed very carefully in such circumstances and employers would be advised to take legal advice before going down this route.
An employer could also consider whether the relationship is no longer tenable and whether the employee can be dismissed due to the breakdown in the working relationship citing “some other substantial grounds” as per section 6 of the Unfair Dismissal Acts. However, it would be extremely difficult to justify a dismissal on the basis that an employee continually raised grievances as is clear from the UK case Woodhouse v West North West Homes (Leeds) Ltd (2013).
The complainant, Mr Woodhouse, brought ten grievance claims over a five year period against his employer on the basis of racial discrimination. The employer investigated his claims but ultimately rejected all of them as groundless. In 2010 the employer dismissed Mr Woodhouse for “some other substantial reason
” which was that he no longer had any trust or confidence in them as his employer. Mr Woodhouse then claimed unfair dismissal on the grounds of victimisation. The Employment Appeals Tribunal (the “EAT”) expressed sympathy for the employer but found that the dismissal was unfair in circumstances where Mr Woodhouse genuinely believed he was being discriminated against and had not acted in bad faith. The EAT noted that no-one had warned Mr Woodhouse that by making repeated complaints he was putting his job at risk. In Martins v Devonshires Solicitors (2010)
an employee was dismissed after multiple discrimination claims. In this case the EAT found that the dismissal was justified as it was grounded on reasons distinct from the discrimination claims. The employee in question had a mental disability and her grievances were based on delusions.
Employers faced with multiple grievance claims should take care to deal with each grievance on its own merits and to follow the grievance procedure correctly in each separate instance. Employers should not make any allegation of bad faith against employees unless such a claim is substantiated, as this would only serve to strengthen an unfair dismissal claim.
This article first appeared as part of Legal-Island’s employment law update service. Find out more: www.legal-island.ie