Maintaining the Governance Position in Grievance Procedures

How can the board express its values regarding staff treatment, and hold management accountable and be accountable to the member owners without getting directly involved in HR and staff issues?

CBLD-logo-300x300transHuman resource and staff issues, in particular, staff grievances, can become emotionally charged, affecting relationships throughout the cooperative and community.

We advise that the board use a standard process of:

  • set pre-established criteria
  • assign authority
  • check to see if actual circumstances, decisions and procedures are within the limits set out in policy

Authority for all staff issues has usually been assigned to the General Manager in executive limitation policy. Below are two sample policies that describe limitations to GM authority. (At the end of this Field Guide, we’ve included some additional Board/GM relationship policies. Please refer to the CBLD Library for a complete set of current policy samples.)

 

Policy Type:            Executive Limitations

Policy Title:              B – Global Executive Constraint

Last Revised:          CBLD Template: November 22, 2008


The General Manager shall not cause or allow any practice, activity, decision, or organizational circumstance that is unlawful, imprudent, or in violation of commonly accepted business and professional ethics and practices, or in violation of the Cooperative Principles.

 

 

Policy Type:            Executive Limitations

Policy Title:              B6 – Staff Treatment and Compensation

Last revised:           CBLD Template: November 22, 2008


The General Manager will not treat staff in any way that is unfair, unsafe, or unclear.

The GM will not:

  1. Operate without written personnel policies that:
    1. Clarify rules for staff
    2. Provide for fair and thorough handling of grievances
    3. Are accessible to all employees
    4. Inform staff that employment is neither permanent nor guaranteed.
  2. Cause or allow personnel policies to be inconsistently applied.
  3. Provide for inadequate documentation, security and retention of personnel records and all personnel related decisions.
  4. Establish compensation and benefits that are internally or externally inequitable.
  5. Change the GM’s own compensation and benefits, except as his or her benefits are consistent with a package for all other employees.

 

From these policies, it’s clear that the board has provided controls and expressed expectations regarding all procedures and decisions, including those specifically relating to the treatment of staff regarding grievances.

Is there anything more for the board to do?

Yes. After setting the expectation and assigning authority, the board must check to see if the response is reasonable, and if the data called for in the response indicates compliance with the board policy.

The reasonableness of management’s response can be judged without grievances being filed. How so? In an internal monitoring report in response to this policy, the board should expect to see clear operational definitions of this policy. This response should layout the criteria by which the GM will know if compliance is achieved, and, ideally, a sound rationale for the approach management is taking. The board is responsible for judging this information: Is the response, the operational definition/interpretation reasonable?

CDS Consulting Co-op consultant Carolee Colter assembled a task force in the summer of 2009 to put together sample models of grievance procedures that should pass the “reasonableness” test. In the sample monitoring report included with the resource materials, and at the end of this document, Carolee lays out one way to demonstrate compliance with the board policy.

Data would need for items 1-3 even if no grievances had been filed, and for all 5 items in the event of grievances filed. If there were grievances filed during the reporting period, the additional data should allow the board to judge, again using the “reasonableness” test, if the process as described in the GMs operational definition/interpretation had been followed, and if management’s assertion of compliance is appropriate.

To get a sense of what this might look like, a full sample monitoring report is included at the end of this document. Your GM may present a different report structure or method of operationalizing the board policy… the key is whatever the response, for the board to judge it based on reasonableness.

This report would come to the board in one of three ways:

  • According to the regular monitoring schedule, as set out in policy
  • On an “inform the board” basis due to a non-compliance issue, as required whenever the GM is aware of an out of compliance situation (usually called for in Communication and Support to the Board policy)
  • As an additionally scheduled report following a public or particularly challenging grievance issue, where the board and management seek to be clear on whether the matter was handled in a manner consistent with board policy.

None of the Grievance Procedures developed by the Cooperative Grievance Model task force include the board becoming involved in any particular grievance.   With relatively few words (along the lines of…“It’s not OK if the GM fails to provide for fair and thorough handling of grievances) and standard rigorous testing based on reasonableness, the board should be able to stand up in front of members and speak with confidence that it has pre-established criteria that speak directly to member values in this area, it has assigned authority and it has a reliable method of checking.

That said, a lot hinges on management’s ability to create reasonable operational definitions of the board expectation. A new set of resources now exists for managers in this area, and we encourage GMs to take full advantage of the work done by Carolee and the Task Force for a Cooperative Grievance Model.

In the event of an “out of compliance” situation: We suggest not breaking the form discussed here, but to refer to the Decision Tree for Acting on Internal Monitoring Reports. You’ll find the next steps will be to check for corrective action taken by the GM and to assess for Severity, Implication and Trends as it relates to the situation.

Here are a few important questions you can use to check your board’s readiness:

  • Does the board have pre-established criteria relating to grievances?
    (We suggest that our samples are ready to use.)
  • Has the board accepted as reasonable an interpretation of these policies?
    If so, is it prepared to fully support that response as reasonable in the event of a challenging situation?
  • Is the board in any way directly involved in HR policies and/or grievance procedures? For example, the last place a staff person goes to air a concern. If so, we highly recommend getting out of this position!
  • Does the board have the discipline to rely on its policies, its assignment of authority, and its method of checking? If yes, great! If no, we suggest working on this without being under the pressure of a challenging situation.

Resources

All available in the CBLD Library , http://cdsconsulting.coop/cbldlibrary

For boards

For GMs- available in the CBLD Library , http://cdsconsulting.coop/cbldlibrary

  • Cooperative Model Grievance Procedure, a project of CDS Consulting Co-op / CBLD
    Contact CaroleeColter@cdsconsulting.coop with feedback and examples of these models in action
  • Full sample monitoring report for Staff Treatment policy, and others polices, available for GMs via the NCGA website

 

Sample relevant policies

 

Policy Type:            Board-Management Relationship

Policy Title:              D – Global Board-Management Connection

Last Revised:          CBLD Template: November 22, 2008


The board’s sole official connection to the operations of the cooperative will be through the General Manager.

 

 

Policy Type:            Board-Management Relationship

Policy Title:              D.2 – Accountability of the GM

Last Revised:          CBLD Template: November 22, 2008


The General Manager is the board’s only link to operational achievement and conduct.

  1. The board will view GM performance as identical to organizational performance so that the co-op’s accomplishment of board-stated ends and avoidance of board-proscribed means will be viewed as successful GM performance.
  2. The board will not instruct or evaluate any employee other than the GM.

 

 

Policy Type:            Board-Management Relationship

Policy Title:              D.3 – Delegation to the GM

Last Revised:          CBLD Template: November 22, 2008


The board delegates authority to the GM through written Ends and Executive Limitations policies.

  1. As long as the GM uses any reasonable interpretation of the board’s Ends and Executive Limitations policies, the GM is authorized to establish all further policies, practices and plans for the cooperative.
  2. The board will respect and support the GM’s choices as long as those choices are based on reasonable interpretations of board policies.
  3. If we change an Ends or Executive Limitations policy, the change only applies in the future.

 

 

 

Policy Type:                              Board-Management Relationship

Policy Title:                                D.4 – Monitoring GM Performance

Last Revised:                            CBLD Template: May 26, 2009


The board will systematically and rigorously monitor and evaluate the GM’s job performance.

  1. Monitoring is how the board determines the degree to which the GM is following board policies. Information that does not directly relate to Ends or Executive Limitations policies is not monitoring information.
  2. The board will acquire monitoring information by one or more of three methods: (a) by internal report, in which the GM discloses interpretations and compliance information to the board; (b) by external report, in which an external, disinterested third party selected by the board assesses compliance with board policies; or (c) by direct board inspection, in which a designated director or committee assesses compliance with the policy criteria.
  3. In every case, the standard for compliance will be any reasonable GM interpretation (as described by operational definitions and metrics) of the board policy being monitored. The board is the final arbiter of reasonableness but will always judge with a “reasonable person” test rather than with interpretations favored by individual directors or by the board as a whole.
  4. The GM is compliant with a policy if he/she presents a reasonable interpretation and adequate data that demonstrate accomplishment of that interpretation.
  5. The board will monitor all policies that instruct the GM. The board can monitor any policy at any time by any method but will ordinarily follow the schedule outlined in the Board Annual Calendar.
  6. The Board’s annual evaluation of the General Manager, based on a summary of monitoring reports received from (date) through (date), will be completed by (date). The Board will make its decisions concerning the evaluation and the employment contract no later than (date). The board will complete the GM compensation process no later than (date).

 

 

 

Policy Type:            Executive Limitations

Policy Title:              B – Global Executive Constraint

Last Revised:          CBLD Template: November 22, 2008


The General Manager shall not cause or allow any practice, activity, decision, or organizational circumstance that is unlawful, imprudent, or in violation of commonly accepted business and professional ethics and practices, or in violation of the Cooperative Principles.

 

 

Policy Type:            Executive Limitations

Policy Title:              B6 – Staff Treatment and Compensation

Last revised:           CBLD Template: November 22, 2008


The General Manager will not treat staff in any way that is unfair, unsafe, or unclear.

The GM will not:

  1. Operate without written personnel policies that:
    1. Clarify rules for staff
    2. Provide for fair and thorough handling of grievances
    3. Are accessible to all employees
    4. Inform staff that employment is neither permanent nor guaranteed.
  2. Cause or allow personnel policies to be inconsistently applied.
  3. Provide for inadequate documentation, security and retention of personnel records and all personnel related decisions.
  4. Establish compensation and benefits that are internally or externally inequitable.
  5. Change the GM’s own compensation and benefits, except as his or her benefits are consistent with a package for all other employees.

 

EXCERPT FROM SAMPLE MONITORING REPORT;

included in the Cooperative Grievance Procedure Model Project

Policy Type:                   Executive Limitations

Policy Title:                   B6 – Staff Treatment and Compensation

Last revised:                 

[Date]

 

I report compliance with all parts of this policy.

I certify that the information contained in this report and attachments is true.

Signed______________________________________, General Manager

Attachments: Evaluation of 8/09 Grievance by Nola Contendere of the Hometown Dispute Resolution Center

Signed: _________________________, GM, Sample Co-op


The General Manager will not treat staff in any way that is unfair, unsafe, or unclear.

The GM will not:

L3.2     Operate without written personnel policies that:

   (b) Provide for fair and thorough handling of grievances

Operational Definition / Interpretation

The Personnel Policies includes a formal and published process for staff to air grievances.

Compliance will be determined if

  1. We have appropriate policies and procedures. “Appropriate” considers what is legal, and what is fair from the employee point of view, and will be determined by the GM, and the HR director with outside HR expert review.
  2. Supervisors are trained so policies and procedures are effectively carried out.
  3. Staff perception regarding clarity and appropriateness of grievance procedures meets or exceeds co-op sector benchmarks.
  4. Actual grievances are reviewed upon completion by a third party expert who will assess the procedure and affirm whether it followed the procedure established in our Grievance Policy and whether it meets our own goals for fairness and impartiality. In addition, this outside review will suggest areas for improvement in how we handle grievances. A copy of her memo is attached (or is available for verification.)
  5. Grievance Committee participants, employees filing grievances, staff advocates and the HR manager will be asked to complete an internal evaluation after every grievance.

Data

  1. As indicated above in L3.2, the Grievance Policy exists within the Personnel Policies and has been reviewed in the course of the HR systems audit by an outside professional in October 2008. Since then, we have adopted new grievance materials developed by a task for of co-op managers, Board members and non-management staff and made available through the CBLD Library:
  • Grievance flow chart
  • Grievance filing form
  • Confidentiality Agreement Form
  • Instructions to the Grievance Committee

These new documents support our Grievance Policy by amplifying and clarifying certain details that our policy did not specifically address.

  1. Percentage of supervisors who received training on the new grievance materials: 100%
  1. Measuring staff perception
Compliance benchmarkMost recent scores,date: June 2009Survey: externalDoes data indicate compliance? Y/NFYI: Previous scores: date:Survey: internal
A. I know what to do if I have a grievance about a management decision.Score: 3.25 or above4.05Y3.33
B. I feel I could use the grievance procedure without fear of retribution.Score: 3.25 or above3.58YN/A
C. When conflicts arise between non-management employees and managers, they are effectively resolved.Score: 3.25 or above3.72Y3.50

In addition, eight candidates came forward for the two newly created positions of Staff Advocate, to be elected by the non-management employees. The purpose of the Staff Advocate position is to support fellow employees in direct communication with management about perceptions of unfair treatment. The high degree of interest shown in the Staff Advocate position is an indicator of staff perception that conflict resolution is worth attempting.

  1. I commissioned an outside evaluation of a recent grievance procedure (completed in August 2009) by Nola Contendere, Director of the Hometown Dispute Resolution Center, (see attached.) Ms. Contendere declared that the grievance had been conducted in line with our established Grievance Policy. Based on her professional experience in the field of conflict resolution, she affirmed that this grievance had been conducted in a fair and impartial manner, but she had several suggestions for changes in how the Grievance Committee was selected and for training for our HR manager in conflict resolution skills.
  2. At the end of the August 2009 grievance, the Grievance Committee participants, the employees who filed the grievance, and the HR manager were asked to complete an internal evaluation, answering these questions: (In the future, when any Staff Advocates involved in a grievance will also be asked to fill out an internal evaluation.)
    1. a)    Did the process used follow the process as described in the grievance procedure?
    2. b)    Did you feel the process was fair and reasonable as described in the grievance procedure? If not, what changes in the procedure would ensure a fairer or more reasonable outcome?
    3. c)     Whether or not you were satisfied with the outcome of the grievance, was the employee with the grievance treated with respect? If not, what specific actions indicated disrespect?
    4. d)    Were there areas of the Grievance Policy itself, the Instructions to the Grievance Committee, the Grievance Filing Form or the Confidentiality Agreement that need to be clarified or revised? If so, what changes would you suggest?

Since there has only been one grievance this year, the responses to the internal evaluation were more useful for refining and clarifying our internal process, (question d), than for monitoring compliance with policy. However, over time as we develop a track record of grievances, responses to questions a), b) and c) will give us data for future monitoring reports.

I will look for a majority of participants agreeing with questions a), b) and c) for each grievance or, in the event of multiple grievances in a year, for a majority of participants agreeing with these questions on a majority of the grievances.

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