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How Can Human Resources Manage Workplace Disputes?

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As an employer, you have a lot to think about when running your business. One such issue is conflict resolution. This could be, for example, between you and employees about work-related issues or workplace conflict between employees. If you have a large business, you may have a human resource (HR) team or HR manager to help manage workplace disputes. There are legally correct methods HR professionals should use when solving issues, which may vary according to the circumstances. This article will explain how HR departments can effectively and legally manage workplace disputes. 

Informal Actions

Ideally, HR teams can manage employment disputes informally. This is often suitable where the employment problem is unserious or unlikely to occur frequently. An effective and informal way HR could solve disputes is by holding a meeting with employees to discuss the issue. It is important that they listen to your employees and attempt to facilitate a resolution. 

During any dispute meeting, HR should also take notes including any actions which you and employees need to take going forward. 

Disciplinary Action

Sometimes, HR may need to manage workplace disputes by taking disciplinary action against employees. This may be the case where the behaviour is more serious and inappropriate. Disciplinary action may involve warnings or dismissal in serious cases. Additionally, concerning any offending employees, HR may choose to recommend: 

  • counselling;
  • suspension from work;
  • removal of work privileges; or 
  • the requirement to attend a course.

It is crucial that, when carrying out disciplinary action, HR teams use a specific procedure that all your employees are aware of. For example, this may involve the need to carry out an investigation. Also, HR professionals should only carry out disciplinary action as a way to manage workplace disputes where they have:

  • a good reason for doing so; 
  • ensured that the process is fair before a final decision is made; and 
  • checked that it is in line with the employee’s contract. 

If disciplinary action culminates in HR needing to dismiss an employee, they must: 

  • provide a good reason for the dismissal;
  • act in good faith when they dismiss;
  • follow a procedure, which is reasonable and fair and in line with the employment agreement or policies; and 
  • keep an open mind about alternative actions before deciding on dismissal. 
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Giving Warnings 

Some workplace disputes may involve, for example, poor conduct of employees, requiring disciplinary action. They may also involve instances of managing performance. If so, one way to manage the workplace dispute is for HR to give employees formal wrongdoing warnings as part of the disciplinary process. This may be appropriate where the employee’s conduct or poor performance is not overly serious, and HR decide to dismiss it. Instead, the warning will warn of disciplinary action if the employee’s conduct or performance continues.

When human resource professionals give employees warnings, they should do so in writing to ensure the employee understands. In doing so, they will also be in accordance with workplace policies and procedures and the employee’s agreement.

Other Methods to Manage Workplace Disputes

There are additional methods HR teams can use to manage workplace disputes, such as mediation. This is where an independent person facilitates discussions between parties to try to resolve the employment dispute. 

If your HR team is considering mediation, they can access free resources through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Key Takeaways

HR’s role involves managing any workplace disputes and employee conflicts. There are different ways in which they can do this. Methods often depend on:

  • what the dispute is about; and
  • the seriousness of it. 

Ideally, workplace disputes should be managed informally by HR professionals. This includes meetings with employees to manage workplace disputes. For more serious workplace disputes such as misconduct or poor performance, human resources may take the disciplinary process. If so, they must have a good reason to do so. It is also important that they follow the business’s agreed process which must be a fair process before a decision is made. 

If you need help understanding how human resources can manage workplace disputes, LegalVision’s experienced dispute lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. So call us today on 0800 005 570 or visit our membership page.

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Clare Farmer

Clare Farmer

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