Disputes in the Workplace

A dispute in the workplace can arise for a variety of different reasons.


In some cases, an employer may be implementing a performance management process. This will involve warning employees about their alleged underperformance and offering them an opportunity to improve their performance over time, whilst training and assistance are offered.


Sometimes this can lead to a dispute if individuals do not agree that they are underperforming and, in some cases, believe that their employer is treating them differently from other employees. In other cases, an employer may seek to vary an employee’s terms and conditions of employment for example, by changing remuneration or working hours and the employee may not consent to this.

Treated unfairly


In other cases, employees believe that they are being treated less favourably for one of several prohibited reasons. This type of dispute in the workplace can give rise to a claim of discrimination if the prohibited reason that the less favourable treatment is occurring is for example due to the employee’s age, sex, sexuality, religion or belief, etc.


Sometimes what appears to be a more noncontentious situation such as a reorganisation or redundancy can turn into a dispute in the workplace if some individuals do not believe that they are being treated reasonably and that others should be made redundant in their place. In that case, an individual may argue that he or she is being unfairly dismissed and therefore a claim has arisen which may be brought to the Employment Tribunal to recover damages for up to 12 months’ salary.

How do you handle a workplace dispute?


Concerning any dispute in the workplace, the employee is at liberty to register that dispute by doing several things. One option for employees involved in a dispute in the workplace is to issue a formal written grievance to their employer outlining the concerns that they have with the current situation. This triggers a process that the employer has to follow to address those concerns by investigating them and setting up a meeting with the individual to listen to his or her concerns.

The employer is required to write to the employee with the decision following the meeting, explaining the reasons for that decision and allowing the employee to appeal against that decision to a higher level of management. One other option for the employee who has a dispute in the workplace is to issue Employment Tribunal proceedings.

If the employee believes that he or she is being discriminated against, the correct course of action to preserve his or her position may be to issue a claim at the Employment Tribunal. Before doing so, the employee should consider contacting ACAS and going through the early conciliation process to see whether or not the employer is likely to conciliate the matter and offer an amicable resolution to the workplace dispute.

Resolving a workplace dispute with a settlement agreement


When there is a dispute in the workplace, the most common way in which that dispute can be resolved is by a settlement agreement which is entered into by both the employee and the employer.


The settlement agreement can resolve the dispute by offering the employee severance terms allowing the employee to resign from his or her employment and to depart on terms that are agreeable to both parties. Because employees are not on an equal footing with employers, the law dictates that if a dispute in the workplace is to be resolved by a settlement agreement, it is essential that the employee seeks formal legal advice and that the legal adviser provides a certificate to confirm that this advice has been provided to resolve the workplace dispute.