Employee complaints: How to avoid ending up in hot oil

Posted Tuesday 21st November 2023

Last week, it was announced that McDonalds, one of the largest UK employers has sacked 18 of its 170,000 UK employees following an influx of employment complaints brought by other staff members.

Alistair Macrow, McDonalds chief executive for the UK and Ireland, informed the Business and Trade Select Committee that 407 employee complaints had been brought since July 2023, including claims of sexual harassment, bullying and race discrimination. 157 of these complaints have been investigated and in 75 cases, disciplinary action has been taken, including the 18 dismissals. The other complaints are pending investigation.

McDonalds had received criticism for its “toxic” workplace culture prior to July 2023, as reports had suggested that employee complaints were not being heard and adequately investigated. This led to the organisation setting up a complaint handling unit solely focusing on investigating employee complaints.

How should the employer respond?

A complaint or formal grievance raised by an employee must be responded to by the employer. The grievance and any disciplinary action which follows must be handled confidentially, balancing the rights of the employee who brought the grievance and the rights of the employee/staff member who the grievance may concern.

Handling complaints brought by employees should be dealt with seriously and in line with the company’s grievance and disciplinary procedures or the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.

Where an employee raises a formal grievance, this must be dealt with fairly and consistently. Following a grievance meeting and investigation, the employer must reach a decision on whether the grievance is upheld and if so, what action should be taken. If the employer does not follow a fair procedure in relation to the grievance, the employee may resign and claim constructive dismissal or constructive unfair dismissal (where they have at least 2 years’ service) if they can show that the employer breached the implied duty of trust and confidence or fundamentally breached the contract of employment in some other way. The employee may be entitled to damages for the breach of contract (capped at £25,000 in the Employment Tribunal) and/or compensation for constructive unfair dismissal if they can show the employer acted unfairly, as set out below.

In some cases, a grievance can result in disciplinary action being taken and, where a crime may have been committed, the police should be informed. It is vital that a fair procedure is also followed in disciplinary proceedings. If an employee is dismissed for misconduct but an Employment Tribunal find that a fair procedure was not followed by the employer, then the employee may be successful in claiming unfair dismissal (where they have at least 2 years’ service). The compensation an employee may be entitled to is currently capped at £19,290 (basic award) + £105,707 (compensatory award).

Sticking to robust and up to date grievance and disciplinary procedures should ensure that complaints are dealt with fairly and proportionately. However, employers should seek the opinion of employment law specialists should a particular circumstance require further advice, in attempts to avoid the employer finding themselves in hot oil.

This article is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action.

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