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Published April 2, 2015 (last updated on June 28, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Content Writer

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What is a workplace dispute?

A workplace dispute is when a conflict emerges in the workplace between employees, managers, and customers. While most conflicts are one-time occurrences that resolve themselves, intervention is vital if the matter is ongoing or escalates.

It is an employer’s responsibility to have a clear, written procedure in place for airing grievances and resolving workplace disputes – ensuring the process is fair and the matter is resolved peacefully.

All modern awards and some enterprise agreements have their own model dispute resolution clause. However, this clause is only relevant for disputes concerning the National Employment Standards and award conditions.

Types of workplace conflict

Disputes in the workplace come in all forms.

Some disputes occur due to a simple misunderstanding or disagreement. While other disputes can arise from a much deeper underlying issue, such as a conflict in personality, political views, religious beliefs, and more. If left unresolved, these conflicts can escalate to more serious matters in the form of bullying, harassment, and violent behaviour.

What is the most common conflict situation?

Below are some of the common forms of workplace conflict:

Clash in Personality

Most personality clashes are the result of a clash in perception toward a person’s character, motives, or behaviour. Being able to accept differences in the way people act and behave – as long as it is within reason – is a great way to diffuse such disputes.

Leadership Style

Some people may confuse a style of leadership with bullying or harassment. Unless the behaviour is clearly unreasonable (i.e. a manager is acting aggressively towards an employee), it is worth taking a step back to review the matter objectively. The person’s style of leadership may just be more direct than what the employee is used to. However, managers should also be cautious as overly aggressive and belittling management styles can be the cause of workplace bullying claims.

Political, cultural, and religious views

Some of the most serious workplace disputes come up when there is a disagreement on politics, religion, and faith. This is fuelled by strong views surrounding these topics which would elicit responses of anger, resentment, or even violence when the notions are challenged.

Pay Dispute

This is especially so when it comes to underpayment of wagespenalty rates, non-payment of annual leave, wages in lieu of notice, and redundancy. If a payroll error has occurred, it is the employer responsibility to resolve the issue and pay the owed amount. Otherwise, the employee may take the matter further.

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How do you resolve a workplace dispute?

Ideally, the best way to manage a dispute in the workplace is to prevent it from happening at all. Of course, this is not always possible or realistic. Therefore, employers need to have an effective conflict resolution system in-place that allows them to manage disputes in a fair and consistent manner.

Four steps to follow in resolving a conflict

Here are some useful steps that employers can follow in a model dispute resolution clause:

1. Listen to both sides of the story

Collect spoken and/or written testimonials from all parties involved in the dispute. If desired, arrange a face-to-face meeting with each person in a safe, quiet environment, where they can express themselves without fear of retribution. Employers may also collect testimonials from people who were present during the dispute to gain an outsider perspective.

2. Work together with both parties involved

Encourage both parties to come together, be open about their differences, and come to a mutual agreement to move forward. This can be done in either a formal or informal manner. In some cases, a single group meeting may suffice, while in other cases a mediation session may need to be arranged with a licensed counsellor.

3. Watch out for harassment

Employers need to keep a discerning eye for harassment. If harassment is suspected, they should respond accordingly. Follow the disciplinary procedure set out in the company handbook for guidance. There needs to be a clear distinction between regular conduct and serious misconduct.

4. Work to build a united team

Team building days or activities are a great way to promote a feeling of unity within the team. It provides team members with an opportunity to interact with one another outside of normal daily routine. As a result, they get to learn more about each other and their unique personalities and traits.

 Peninsula advisers can help you craft clear, legal procedures for resolving disputes. For peace of mind, please call our 24 hour Advice Line now on 1300 651 415.

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