Top tips for handling employee disputes

It’s the nature of the world of business that there will be the occasional disagreement, but when that dispute is between a business owner and a member of your team, handing that issue needs very special attention. Charlotte Flatman, Head of Learning & Development at SVC Solutions, shares her advice for how to get that right.

Tackling a dispute with an employee is likely to be a big issue for a small business. By its very nature, a smaller business will have a lesser number of employees, so the fallout from situations involving even just one member of staff can lead to a much greater impact on staff morale and relationships throughout the workforce.

One of the key factors in handling a dispute within the workplace, whether that be a disagreement around working conditions between staff and management or disciplinary actions that need to be put in place, is that an employer is transparent, open and fair, working to clearly defined policies that can be followed consistently and accurately, as well as being up to date with the latest legal requirements. Achieving this successfully as a small business can be confounded by the fact that it is less likely to have a dedicated HR professional working within the team, with many aspects around HR picked up by another member of the team.

This puts a small business at particular risk, and one key area of concern that has developed incredibly recently is the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill, which received Royal Ascent in July 2023. At the heart of the Bill is a further empowerment to employees and their right to flexible working arrangements. Previously, an employee would have to be in post for 26 weeks before making a statutory request for flexible working, now this can be done from day one of their employment. The number of statutory approaches an employee can make to an employer around flexible working arrangements has also increased, from one in a 12-month period to two.

Employees seeking flexible working arrangements, which may not necessarily work for the business, might find themselves in conflict with their employer. So how does a small business start to deal with this situation? Any good business will look to work collaboratively with their employees to find the best solutions, but without qualified HR representatives within the business it can be difficult to know where to draw the red lines that can be successfully upheld should the situation end in legal challenge.

The impact of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill is likely to be far-reaching, but with the right approach and a good understanding of the implications of your actions, businesses can still work effectively to support employees and protect their business operations. While flexible working might be very much on trend, the truth is that it is impossible for some businesses to operate effectively if catering to all their staff’s requirements for flexible working.

Good employers would expect to work collaboratively with a member of staff to resolve any issue around their working conditions. This approach is likely to build employee loyalty and engagement, ultimately leading to better staff retention. In the area of flexible working, genuinely consider the options available to meet an employer’s needs and if that proves impossible, constructively look for a compromise. When you consider the cost of recruitment and the impact of losing experienced members of the team, supporting staff collaboratively often just makes good business sense.

Our team at SVC can offer third party advice for when you need specialist HR input to oversee a specific situation. Equally, our experts are also qualified to act as an independent third party in employment matters to oversee a Right of Appeal as set out by ACAS.

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