When dealing with grievance, disciplinary and absence

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When dealing with grievance, disciplinary and absence

Blog Post

Written by John Berry on 3rd May 2017. Revised 25th March 2020.

4 min read

Relaxed managerThere’s a common theme amongst the absences, grievances, disciplinaries, performance management and general people management issues that managers face. It’s that managers don’t act. When dealing with grievance, disciplinary and absence, managers must act swiftly.

The problem is this. When a manager is faced with an employee absence or the likes, he or she will likely dither.

Why would a manager not dither? It’s not something that any of us want to deal with. Managers want to do positive things, not deal with unpleasant or contentious issues.

So why not park the issue ‘till tomorrow? And we all know that tomorrow never comes.


When there’s an issue between manager and worker, there’s an implied timeline. All parties have expectations about how long things should take. And generally these times are in days and weeks rather than weeks and months. If that timeline is not met there are consequences. Those consequences are the result of feelings, beliefs and attitudes in the mind of the employee and in the minds of those who might subsequently judge the manager – for example members of an employment tribunal as they determine financial awards against the firm.

Let’s look at some of the processes.

Employees occupy jobs. Jobs motivate people. Motivation causes behaviour. And behaviour results in performance on the job. Individual performance realises business outcomes for the organisation. Negative feelings about manager and company hit the ability of the job to motivate and sap intrinsic motives. And that hits performance.

Reducing Commitment

More seriously though, it reduces the employee’s commitment to the company and increases the employee’s intention to quit. It’s not what’s being done that necessarily causes the hurt, but the time it’s taking. Now, these feelings can be reversed as the manager deals with the issues and works to recover positive feelings. But only if the manager acts, and acts within the expected time.

There is no doubt that feelings of inequity and injustice about the situation hit both the employee and their colleagues, reducing the motivation of everyone in proximity.

The whole affair therefore reduces the organisation’s business position.

In Money Terms

Financially, it’s an easy calculation to make. Assume that the loss to the organisation per person is twice the salaries of those affected multiplied by the percentage motivation reduction compared to normal.

If an employee on £30k salary is absent, it therefore costs the organisation around £5k per month. If ten employees are affected, by having to work harder to pick up the slack perhaps, and their performance reduces by just 10%, that costs another £5k per month. Add to that the time it takes the manager and his or her advisers, and the total rises to maybe £30k a month. The financials alone make it imperative that managers act, and act soon.

And Legally

Then there’s the legal position. A tribunal will take a dim view if managers don’t do things in reasonable time. There are distinct guidelines in statute and case law. Take for example the time between someone being sent home, suspended pending investigation, and the disciplinary hearing. That time should be no more than about 14 days.

And the time between someone going off sick and the firm commencing back to work management with an occupational health assessment should be around four weeks. Once the assessment report is available to the manager, the process of managing the absent employee’s case should start immediately with workplace adjustments implemented within a few days where relevant. If ultimately the employee is unlikely to return, ill-health dismissal must proceed within a few weeks.

When dealing with grievance, disciplinary and absence

Dithering damages employee wellbeing. And it costs the organisation in reduced performance. Dithering is therefore in no-one’s interest.

So managers, when you’re faced with a staff issue, act. And act swiftly. And if you’re not sure what to do or don’t have the effort available, call us for help.