Another day, another eye catching tribunal report. Peter Marsh, the only male member of a health visitor team within Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, recently won a claim for direct sex discrimination after being told by his female manager to “man up” in front of “a room full of women”, insult to injury being added by the same manager leaving a meeting with the throwaway line “goodbye ladies”. 
Although the press reports focused on the acrimonious working relationship between the two key players, only briefly addressing the parallel complaint of detriment for trade union activities, the tribunal also carefully examined the manner in which Mr Marsh’s grievance was addressed. Three notable mistakes on the Trust’s part stood out: - 
1. It did not treat the grievance as seriously as it should have, notably in downplaying the grievance because a wider workplace survey on wellbeing was in progress at the time; 
2. The officer determining the grievance outcome – and rejecting it in its entirety – was perceived to be more interested in closing ranks than in fairly assessing each head of complaint; 
3. The wider background to why Mr Marsh felt particularly offended by the comments, being the lone male team member, could have been addressed via a recommendation that his superiors watched their language and acknowledged that they would do so. This opportunity was evidently missed. 
Indeed, as far as the latter was concerned, the tribunal found the “man up” comment to be a detriment – comprising a verbal attack by a manager in front of colleagues, and part of an ongoing regime of sex discrimination – and made particular note of the fact that there was never any apology for it. 
This case occupied 15 days’ worth of tribunal time. Each side was legally represented and called 5 witnesses. The likely costs to each side would be another question altogether. 
In contrast with the mistakes, what are the lessons for a sensible approach to grievances
1. Treat them seriously – some complainants may be nuisances, but that is no reason to tar all of them with the same brush. 
2. Look at the issues through the eyes of an imaginary employment judge – that may save the risk of a real judge doing so at some future point. 
3. Even if the grievance itself cannot and should not be upheld, a workplace recommendation may go a long way towards appeasing a complainant and reducing the risk of an expensive tribunal battle. 
Are you facing the need to handle a difficult grievance, and need some advice? Or have you brought one, and feel dissatisfied with the outcome or its handling? Might there be a tribunal claim on the horizon? Get in touch now. Contact David Cooper on 0121 325 5402 or via . 
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