It's inappropriate for you to do that
December 20, 2007 10:25 AM   Subscribe

UKEmploymentfilter: What was the point of the meeting my boss had with me today?

As described in this question, I have filed a formal grievance at work. The resolution I am seeking is that the company conduct a formal stress assessment as recommended by the Health and Safety Executive.

The next step in the company's grievance policy is a meeting between me, the HR manager (A) and the company's health and safety manager (B).

B has already emailed me and said that I was the only employee from my location who has complained about stress, and that he would not accept hearsay or word of mouth such as 'Everyone feels this way'.

Since B won't accept my word about it, and since B refuses to do a formal survey, I decided to do a survey myself. I passed it out this morning, putting one on everyone's desk before the work day started. I wrote and printed it at home, and did not use company resources in any way. I took great care to be professional in the wording, and did not mention the formal complaint. There was a note on the bottom of the survey asking them to pass it back to me if they wished to participate. I did not badger anyone in any way. I got over 25% of them back.

This afternoon, my manager (C) called me into a meeting to say that they thought it was 'inappropriate' for me to do this. He then admitted that he knew they couldn't stop me from doing it, or take up the surveys that were still floating around. But he kept insisting it was inappropriate. I asked him why, and the only thing he could come up with was that the company should be the one doing the survey. I pointed out that A and B had already flat out refused to do a survey. He then said I should have waited until the next formal meeting in the grievance procedure. I said I was doing it before that meeting so that I could take the evidence with me.

So what was the real purpose of this meeting? "Oh hey, you, that thing you are doing. We're not allowed to stop you doing it, but it's inappropriate for you to do it." WTF?

Some further points that may or may not be relevant:
* C did not initiate the meeting. C's boss told him to have the meeting with me. I'm pretty sure that C's preference would have been to ignore everything.
* Nearly every meeting I've had in respect of the formal grievance has ended with me in tears. I managed to hold back in this one, mostly because it was so absurd. But a paranoid part of me is saying 'They know meetings make you cry, so they told C to have a meeting about it.'
* Management does not know the results of the survey, but they probably guess (correctly) that it indicates that I was right when I said it wasn't just me.

Are they just trying to intimidate me? Is this bullying? Is there some possibility I'm missing? Management incompetence? I just can't see what the company gets out of this meeting.
posted by happyturtle to Work & Money (15 answers total)
Sounds like you need to get a new job.
posted by kpmcguire at 10:52 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Looking over the story - they've discouraged you in every facet of this pursuit because they want you to stop. This is just more of the same. And you can expect the same as long as you keep pursuing it. They don't want the can of worms opened. They will do as little as they can legally get away with to respond to your grievance and whatever they can legally get away with to discourage its pursuit. You probably credit them with putting more thought into their actions than they are, but the basic gist of what they want - you to stop - isn't complicated.
posted by nanojath at 10:53 AM on December 20, 2007

What it means is that you have found a possible way around the brick wall they are trying to put in front of you. What it means is that you are in danger of actually making an improvement or two. C's boss probably wants you discouraged, not because he dislikes you or thinks you're wrong, but because he's focused on other things. He can't possibly know how difficult your working situation is, or how it really affect you and your coworkers.

Treasure the friends you have at work; you'll need them. But it sounds like you're on the right track, and it sounds (to my admittedly uninformed self) like you are trying to follow correct procedures, but refusing to be cowed when management tries to use those same "procedures" to stymie you. Good on you!
posted by amtho at 11:03 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I guess I was expecting something more... calculated. Are they really only trying to bully me? How lame.
posted by happyturtle at 11:30 AM on December 20, 2007

I look at jobs like romantic relationships, if it isn't working for you, "forcing" someone to do something generally works for no one. I would really just try to get a new job.

I can't tell by their website if the HSE is an authority of any nature or not, stress is a factor that many employers are well aware of and don't really care to do anything about. Jobs are usually somewhat stressful. If it is not affecting their bottom line enough for them to notice, I doubt they are going to care much. You are currently being labled a "rabble-rouser" as ikkuyu pointed out, that can either be a good thing or a bad thing.
posted by stormygrey at 11:36 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would suspect they are thinking two or three moves ahead in the chess match. 1) They fire you, 2) you sue for wrongful termination, 3) they have to present evidence that you broke rules, insubordination, etc. Each of you are trying to cover your ass and I would bet that they will win (they already resent the hell out of you).
posted by mattbucher at 11:39 AM on December 20, 2007

I gave you some responses in the previous question, so re-read them and any links to on-line reference material, but here's my opinion on this lot.

I don't think doing your own survey was a very good idea in terms of your own employee / employer relationship. A far better way to do this would have been to speak to a number of people informally and gauge their feelings on the issue. Ascertain how a formal, company produced survey would pan out. Then present this information verbally at the hearing eg "I have spoken to X number of employees in the department and Y number have stated they agree with me and would be willing to state so in a formal company survey etc" Your confidence in challenging the company to undertake a formal assessment at the meeting based on this should be enough for them to give your idea consideration. Anyway, you've done it, it's not a disciplinary offence and if you have a sufficient number of survey papers back then it will probably help your case.

You know the drill now right? Now you've decided to make a formal grievance complaint all parties should follow the procedure closely. The H&S manager (B) should not be discussing the matter by email or otherwise until the first formal meeting. If he does state that you do not wish to discuss the matter outside the formal meeting structure. At this point you can make your concerns known, they can respond and a discussion ensue. You should definitely take a colleague who is in agreement or at least impartial on the issue raised. Afterwards you should be given an formal response to the meeting and an account of what was discussed in writing. If your employer's response is unsatisfactory to you then you must appeal and this time a more senior member of management must be involved or ask for an ACAS mediator to join the meeting. Again you should get a formal written response to the outcome of the appeal meeting. If you are still unhappy with the outcome you go to an Employment Tribunal who will bring the issue to conclusion finally.

When did you raise the grievance formally? Once you have started this, things should move quickly and positively with a maximum of 5 days between each stage of complaint, meeting, appeal and second meeting. If after 28 days from your initial written complaint your company has not moved the issue forward then you should go straight to a tribunal.

Finally, to answer your question properly, the meeting today was a reflection of your company's shortcomings in handling disgruntled employees properly. In their defense it is considered best practice to resolve problems like this informally but a positive conversation should have been had rather than a negative "meeting". What you're doing is within your rights, they just don't like it.

Stick to your guns, get on the phone to the ACAS helpline and plunder all the resources on-line. Workplace H&S is legislated up the ass in the UK and taken very seriously. Frankly, I'm baffled by the attitude of your superiors and your H&S manager in particular. He should be enthusiastic about tackling problems you've raised, not belligerent. And at worst, he should be covering his bosses backside from tribunal payouts and instead he's setting them up big-time.

All this will be very stressful for you (and probably for the managers). Many company's have an ingrained culture of "don't rock the boat" when it comes to working conditions which can be hugely damaging, to not only employees' health, motivation and productivity but to the company's performance as a whole. Sometimes though, someone just has to rock the boat and ideally do it with as many of the crew as they can muster.

Good luck.
posted by brautigan at 11:41 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I work in Personnel currently (not in UK). I vote for Management incompetence, or more likely inexperience in the process. 99% of conspiracies are usually incompetence.

My take is that they feel you are trying to push the issue with the informal survey you took of your colleagues. The formal route would have been for them to hear your grievance and then make a decision.

C's boss heard about it and told him to address or "fix" the situation. Most managers who have no HR experience make this mistake. They should be letting HR drive the grievance process otherwise they run the risk of making errors that leave them open to litigation.

Mishandling the situation could cause you to leave and file for constructive dismissal (please bear in mind the last UK employment law course I took was over 2 years ago). An employment tribunal isn't the best way to resolve the situation - every case I've seen that got this far resulted in the employee leaving the company and for the most part not getting any satisfaction out of the experience.

You want the stressful situation resolved and the quickest way, believe it or not, is via the grievance process. Keep friendly with your HR manager, they are there to assist you, not just to protect the company's interests, and are often the voice of reason in the management structure.

Read your employment manual, usually you are allowed to take a colleague into the meeting with you for support. They aren't allowed to answer on your behalf, but can be a useful ally. I'd recommend talking to the Citizen's Advice Bureau for some pointers. Document everything, including taking off site copies of any communications with the company.

If you've got any questions, MetaMail me and I'll try to answer (I have some online resources I can look up). Good luck.
posted by arcticseal at 11:49 AM on December 20, 2007

On preview, Brautigan makes some excellent points
posted by arcticseal at 11:54 AM on December 20, 2007

You need legal advice. I'm not going to give it to you.

This is an employment law issue and good on you for having the balls to bring it up with your employer. Stress issues are notoriously difficult from a claimant point of view.

I recommend, in this order:

1. retain a solicitor. The Law Society can give you a list of practitioners in your area with the requisite experience. If cost precludes this (and most firms will give you an initial free of charge consultation) as an option;
2. union rep. Sounds like it's not a possibility so; maybe
3. consult your local citizens advice bureau who offer employment advice. Service can be patchy so consider more than one visit and prepare for slow service as they are scandalously under resourced; finally
4. New job. Hate to say it but your job is your livelihood.

My recommendation - get yourself a solicitor. If this is worth potentially prejudicing your relationship with your employer then you owe it to yourself to have appropriate representation – they will.

Employment issues aren't eligible for public funding so on a costs basis you might want to consider your local high street practitioner rather than looking for best of breed.

Still, chin up. It could be worse.

Best of luck.

On preview:

Mishandling the situation could cause you to leave and file for constructive dismissal (please bear in mind the last UK employment law course I took was over 2 years ago).

I'm a litigator; I don't specialise in employment but I am a Free Representation Unit rep. Constructive dismissal claims are very hard for claimants to make out. Consult a lawyer before you quit if you're planning to go this way. Get competent independent legal advice. This isn't legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such, I'm not advising you about the strength (or otherwise) of your claim or any other issue. Get competent independent legal advice.
posted by dmt at 12:00 PM on December 20, 2007

From your employer's perspective, and probably from that of a lot of your colleagues, you're That Guy. Not that this is just, but it's just the way it is. Were I your boss, I would be doing everything in my power right now to get rid of you. If your job is stressful, why not get a new one?
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:34 PM on December 20, 2007

After reading the postscript on your earlier question, I retract what I just said. Carry on. But do be warned, legal or not, rocking the boat like this could make getting future employment elsewhere difficult. Choose your battles.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:38 PM on December 20, 2007

I'd assume that there's a formal policy for doing what you did, and you probably didn't follow it--more out of ignorance than arrogance. Now, should they decide to do it, results will be skewed now that there's drama and people will have had a chance to talk about it. Pretty sure that your survey isn't really worth the paper it's written on, and really you're just making more headaches for yourself and them, while not actually benefitting anyone.

True or False
I feel very stressed at work

is entirely different in survey world than
On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is least and 10 is most, please rate the following statements
I feel stressed at work
I feel safe at work

is entirely different than
Please describe the overall atmosphere of your working environment

is entirely different than
If you had the opportunity to take your manager's position, would you accept it?

Get the idea?
posted by TomMelee at 4:02 PM on December 20, 2007

You (and your management) can view the grievance process as either an actual way to resolve things and clear the air, or as a necesaey precursor to tribunal action. I guess it is quite rare that an employer actually does take a grievance "on board", and immediately tells you so. Anyway, read what brautigan said. Though I'm not sure that a 5 day max for each step of the grievance procedure is viewed as too important by tribunals: what's crucial is if you go to tribunal it's within the right time limit (28 days after your grievance, and within 3 months, though extensions usually apply).

Unsolicited advice:
I would that you suggest that you consider what is important *to you* here. Do you want to martyr yourself for your co-workers? Do you want to preclude getting a good reference from this employer? Would an uncertain employment tribunal award, or settlement several months down the line, compensate the extended period of pre-hearing work and worry?

I am not suggesting that you drop your cause, but that you consider - now - how far you are prepared to take it, in view of the potential consequences. And whether informal methods might better achieve your aims (eg I suggested in the previous thread you become a staff rep and take it from there).
From the bare facts you have given, you don't seem to have an obviously-strong case to take forward (a no-win lawyer may differ, this is not legal advice, or an assessment of your actual case).
posted by wilko at 4:50 PM on December 20, 2007

When did you raise the grievance formally? Once you have started this, things should move quickly and positively with a maximum of 5 days between each stage of complaint, meeting, appeal and second meeting. If after 28 days from your initial written complaint your company has not moved the issue forward then you should go straight to a tribunal.

Aha! That's what they are afraid of! After I filed the formal grievance, I went on holiday. Then when I got back from holiday, conditions were worse and I went off sick. Then A went on holiday. So more than 28 days have elapsed and they are afraid I am going straight to the tribunal.

One of the things C kept saying in the meeting was that 'The company is moving as fast as they can'. It didn't make sense to me because I hadn't complained about the speed. The first two delays were down to me, so I'm not going to be pedantic and go straight to tribunal just because lots of people take time off around the holidays.

The meeting yesterday makes a lot more sense now. Thank you.

(I still haven't called ACAS, but I will. I was so stressed by the time I took off sick that I was barely capable of getting out of bed. I feel a lot better now.)
posted by happyturtle at 11:52 PM on December 20, 2007

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