3. Internal grievance procedures
3 Internal grievance procedures
Internal grievances and disputes may be resolved through informal and formal procedures. Informal procedures are the most common avenue for managing individual grievances and disputes between people. However, if informal discussions fail, then a formal procedure is followed that usually involves a more thorough investigation by a committee. Both informal and formal procedures must be fair and non-discriminatory, and deal with grievances promptly.
3.1 Steps involved in an informal procedure
- The person making the complaint approaches the chairperson or a person designated to deal with grievances and disputes, such as a complaints officer, to discuss the matter.
- The person receiving the complaint needs to obtain as much information as possible, evaluate the grievance/dispute and explore options for resolution.
- The person making the complaint should be advised of his or her right to submit a formal grievance if he or she is not satisfied with the decision and outcome of the informal process.
3.2 Steps involved in a formal procedure
- If informal discussions fail to resolve a grievance/dispute, a formal complaint is made in writing to the chairperson, complaints officer or other appropriate person designated to deal with formal grievances.
- The complainant must set out all the details of the grievance or dispute.
- The complaints officer, or person designated to deal with the complaint, attempts to resolve the matter with the complainant.
- If the complaint involves another person or persons, it is necessary to discuss the matter with the other person or persons concerned to get their side of the story.
- If there is a dispute between two or more people, mediation may be recommended at this stage, where an impartial third party attempts to assist the parties to resolve their dispute. The mediator may be a member of the association or an external person. The mediator must be acceptable to the parties, and should not have any stake in the outcome. The mediator facilitates the discussion between the parties and guides them towards a solution. Each party is given a fair opportunity to state their case. The mediator does not decide the dispute or impose a solution on the parties. The role of the mediator is to assist the parties find their solution.
- If mediation fails, or it is not considered appropriate in the circumstances, the matter is referred to an impartial grievance committee.
- The grievance committee invites the parties to attend a hearing, and gathers all the necessary information needed to make a decision.
- At the hearing, the parties have an opportunity to outline the basis of the grievance or dispute, to present documentation and call persons. Where the grievance/dispute involves complex issues, the parties may be entitled to legal representation.
- The committee sums up the issues and, after considering all the information presented to them, the committee makes a decision. The committee informs the parties of their decision or recommendations.
- After the hearing and after a decision has been reached, the parties may appeal against a decision or recommendation made by the committee. The parties must be given a reasonable time in which to submit an appeal in writing.
- The committee should keep detailed and accurate notes of the hearing and the outcome.
- A notice of a grievance or dispute may be withdrawn at any time.
3.3 Calling a special general meeting
The rules of an association may provide for members to call a special general meeting of the association to address matters over which there is a dispute or grievance. For example, one or more members may have a grievance about the way in which the association is being run, membership fees or a breach of association rules.
The rules of association would normally set out the minimum number of members that need to sign a request for a special meeting, for example, not less than 10 members. The request must state the purpose of the special meeting.
If there is a collective grievance or dispute, the group should nominate a representative to present the grievance and represent the group at the meeting.
The special general meeting must be convened within a reasonable period of time, for example within 21 days of the secretary receiving the request from the members, Check the rules of your association. Normal meeting procedures are followed at the special general meeting and in accordance with the rules of association (see Chapter 6 – Meetings).
3.4 Removal of a management committee member
Grievances and disputes may arise as a result of the conduct of one or more management committee members. For example, a committee member may not be acting in the best interests of the association, or a committee member may be causing discontent amongst the committee, making it difficult for the management committee to operate.
An association may generally remove a committee member by means of a resolution in a general meeting or a special general meeting, and appoint another member. If a member is to be removed, the chairperson (unless the chairperson is the one being removed, then the deputy chairperson), must inform the member of the motion to have the member removed and the reasons for the removal.
The committee member must be given the opportunity to submit a written response, giving reasons why he or she should not be removed. The response is sent to all the members of the association or is read at the general meeting. The resolution is put to the meeting and voted on. The process for removing a committee member should be set out in the rules of the association.
3.5 Suspension and expulsion
In some situations, it may be necessary for an association to suspend or even expel a member, including a member of the management committee. Members may be expelled for a number of reasons, for example, serious criminal conduct, failing to comply with the rules of the association and bringing the association into disrepute. Expulsion is seen as a last resort, when all other options to resolve the problem have been exhausted.
The process for suspension and expulsion would normally be set out in the rules of association and must be followed precisely. Courts have ruled expulsions invalid where the process is not followed. As a matter of natural justice, the member being suspended or expelled must be given a fair opportunity to be heard (to state their case) and to appeal against a decision.