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Recognise an issue early

Recognising an issue early and identifying what the underlying problem is will make it easier to resolve.

An employment issue includes anything that harms or that may harm the employment relationship. There can be many employment relationships, for example between:

  • employer and employee
  • employees
  • manager and employee
  • a union and its members
  • a union and an employer
  • different unions covering employees in the same workplace.

Examples of problems from an employee’s perspective can include allegations of:

  • disputes over holidays or pay (including deductions from pay)
  • not following health and safety rules and policies
  • discrimination, bullying or harassment
  • disagreement about whether a management action was reasonable
  • misunderstood or poorly managed performance issues, disciplinary processes, dismissals, change processes and redundancies, and applications for flexible work arrangements
  • disagreement about the meaning of a term in an employment agreement or whether it is being implemented correctly.

Examples of problems from an employer’s perspective include allegations of:

  • lateness and absenteeism
  • not following health and safety rules and policies
  • not following workplace policies and rules
  • misconduct (unacceptable behaviour)
  • conflict between employees
  • performance issues
  • long-term illnesses
  • incompatibility.

Some of these problems may be the basis of personal grievances , which require specific treatment under the Employment Relations Act 2000.

Where more than one person has the same issue

Sometimes a number of staff may have the same problem. If so, it can help to deal with the problems collectively and to look for a solution that works for everyone. Where the employees are union members, their union can play an important part in representing their interests.

Identify the problem

First, think through the problem and gather all relevant information. It is worth spending some time at this stage trying to identify the underlying cause in order to see how the problem might be resolved.

Collecting the information is the first step towards resolving the issue. Be honest. Missing out important facts or changing the facts can make the problem worse.

The kinds of questions you might need to ask are:

  • What are the details of the employment agreement, the workplace policies, work rules, job description or custom and practice?
  • When and how did the problem arise?
  • Does the problem involve one employee or a group of employees?
  • Has anyone else had this issue, what was done to resolve their issue?
  • Have you talked to the person or people involved about the problem?
  • Have any actions been taken already? Did that help or not?

Sometimes it’s a good idea to talk through a problem with another manager or a trusted friend to clarify whether a problem exists and what the issues might be. The cause of a problem may not be obvious. Remember to take care to respect the privacy of others and to protect confidential information when you talk through a problem.

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