The Post Office scandal proves we need to listen to grievances now more than ever

ITV's Mr Bates vs the Post Office: uncomfortable viewing -

The recent Post Office scandal drama has been difficult viewing for audiences across the UK. Watching bad things happen to good people makes us all feel angry and uncomfortable, and the reality is that injustices like this are still happening, far from the watchful eyes of our TV screens. 

This scandal is so huge that the government is scrabbling to make things right, overturning criminal convictions in a hurry. The temptation will then be to mark this down as an almighty miscarriage of justice, a one-off, a colossal mistake.

What HR can learn from the Post Office Horizon scandal

The real mistake would be ignoring the lessons of this scandal, in particular the colossal lack of compliance that had to have happened to keep these issues buried for over a decade.

How could so many grievances go uninvestigated? How many whistleblowers were silenced during this period? How could something this big go unresolved for so long? 

One reason must be the huge lack of access to justice for ordinary people: a staggering 77% of people in the UK cannot afford support if they have a legal issue, which has led to an all-time high in self-representation in the courts.

Right now, one in three employment tribunal cases are being brought by claimants representing themselves, trying to make sense of a complex system against highly trained solicitors. 

For HR managers, this is a flashing warning light.

As difficult as the grievance process can sometimes be, situations like the Post Office scandal prove how important it is as an early warning system for much bigger issues.

The new risk is that without access to affordable legal advice, employees may submit grievances that miss out essential details, bury details in emotion or mask critical risks to the business.

How to identify whistleblowing and protected disclosures

In our experience, grievances are often treated as just that by employees – a way to air a grievance – rather than the starting point of a formal process with a formal outcome.

One of the main issues we have identified while supporting self-representation is helping employees use the correct term to describe what they think is happening, whether it’s as simple as bullying, or more complex like discrimination or whistleblowing.

When an employee uses the correct labels early on, it can help everyone – HR professionals are able to quickly identify the risks in a grievance and communicate that to their company, and employees are able to manage their expectations about outcomes.

While it can sometimes feel like the employee is getting 'too legal' too early, the alternative is that potential issues are hiding under the surface, threatening to take HR teams by surprise at the worst moment.

Navigating the whistleblowing landscape

Lack of basic legal knowledge hurts everyone: it makes HR professionals’ jobs harder, it leaves huge risks undiscovered inside companies, and it leaves employees with no redress when things go colossally wrong. We believe that something as simple as helping employees to correctly label their issue can make a huge difference for HR teams, for employees and as a lasting legacy to prevent another national scandal.

Danae Shell is founder of UK consumer legal platform Valla