· 2 min read · Features

Learning from disciplinaries and grievances


Disciplinaries and grievances are two issues that can easily spiral out of control if not dealt with effectively, costing thousands of pounds and damaging staff morale, trust and reputation.

This year the Christie Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, a world-renowned cancer research centre and hospital, found itself facing criticism over the suspension of its chief executive.

What started off as a disagreement over a £2,600 expenses bill ended up costing in the region of £270,000, and that is before you even take into account the legal fees. 

Commentators are quick to criticise the public sector: 'When it’s not your money it doesn’t matter', 'it wouldn’t happen in the private sector'. However, isn’t this perhaps a lazy explanation? In our experience it doesn’t matter whether or not the taxpayer is paying the wages of a suspended employee for months on end. The issue is more complex and is rooted in the size and culture of the organisation. Large employers can learn from how smaller organisations often deal with disciplinary and grievance issues. 

So what do small organisations do that large organisations do not? We have identified five key differences. 

1. The very nature of small organisations means there is no place to hide for the person responsible for disciplinaries. This creates an incentive to keep momentum so that issues are addressed in a timely manner. 

2. Alongside this, a culture of resolution means that rather than being process-driven, priority is given to ensuring a timely resolution for all concerned, something that some large organisations lose sight of. 

3. A key element of this culture is an intolerance of delay at leadership level. Prescribed timescales will be strictly adhered to, even if that may mean making the best of a less than perfect situation. 

4. Small organisations naturally have fewer stakeholders – which means they have more efficient processes and decision-making and those responsible for managing the process are closer to the people and the issues. A risk faced in larger organisations is that participants in the process (e.g. witnesses) do not give priority to their part in it over their ‘day job’ – leading to meetings being delayed around apparent unavailability. 

5. Finally small companies often don’t have a dedicated resource and therefore, while they have to allocate reasonable endeavor, are more likely to resist additional peripheral investigations and distractions from the central issues. Such distractions often lead to protracted and expensive delays in large organisations. 

A common theme is ownership of the resolution. This is naturally a challenge in larger organisations, but without individuals being given clear ownership of resolution (rather than process management/compliance) delays will be inevitable as there is always a good reason to gold plate a process at the expense of delay. 

As with all cases, whether in a large or small business, it is in the interest of all parties to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. The old adage of 'justice delayed is justice denied' certainly rings true. Adopting some of the values and practices of smaller organisations could result in a different outcome for all concerned.

Darren Maw is managing director of HR and employment law firm Vista