6. Grievance Processes and some General Working Practice Points
Many of the stories we heard from our community about grievances at work were shocking. There are cases of sexual harassment, discrimination and misconduct in large organisations that have been poorly dealt with or not dealt with at all.
It is very important that organisations review their grievance procedures and make sure these are accessible to all members of staff, including freelancers. March for the Arts would advise those who have experienced poor treatment at work to seek advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau, or from any appropriate union (whether you are a member or not).
No “clear route to report a grievance can sometimes damage working relationships if you don’t get that distance...If the grievance is against the person who is running something, where do you go?”
Be proactively open about processes
Proactively encourage reporting of issues
Consider the approachability of your staff
Don’t fear the formality
Train all staff in procedures.
Record and take all grievances seriously.
Create clear lines of communication as well as alternative lines of communication between freelancer and staff as a back up.
6.1 Make your grievance process and route to feedback, support or issues clear in your contract or in writing.
This can also be communicated verbally, but organisations should be aware this can sometimes seem aggressive or off putting for a freelancer. Having the information in writing will often feel more impartial and empower the freelancer.
6.2 Organisations and freelancers should be aware that HR departments are ultimately there to represent the interests of the company; this can sometimes overtake the interests of the freelancer.
March for the Arts have heard from our community that in matters of grievance, full time, permanent, or long-term staff are often prioritised over freelancers.
6.3 Be aware of potential conflicts of interest.
Organisations should actively think about potential conflicts of interest. Are your staff related or in relationships that might mean they protect each other’s interests over the interests of the freelancer for example?
Not all potential issues with HR departments, grievances processes and personnel can be ‘fixed’, some conflicts of interest are inevitable. However, awareness and acknowledgement of this can empower both sides.
Organisations can seek support when they are unable to facilitate impartiality, or for supporting staff who are dealing with lots of difficult grievances.
6.4 Avoid leaning on the freelancer for solutions.
Although it may sometimes be appropriate to check how a freelancer wishes to go forward with a grievance, some processes should already be in place so that the pressure does not fall on the person in difficulty. Freelancers may not fully understand the workings of an organisation and shouldn’t be expected to solve its problems.
6.5 Don’t fear the formality.
Many issues that arise for freelancers around grievances, particularly in smaller organisations, arise because of informality and a lack of clear procedure.
For small and large organisations where friends and close relationships are common, it is important to formalise any grievances. This shows the value that is placed on the work and the freelancer and that nothing is thrown away in a ‘casual’ conversation or dealt with without pay or contract.
6.6 Be aware that raising a grievance can be a psychological battle.
Organisations can think about whether their HR departments are actually approachable and impartial as far as possible.
Is your pastoral support person mental health first aid trained, for example?
Freelancers are entitled to bring a support person with them when discussing a grievance. This should be facilitated by the organisation, ensuring a confidential time and place is scheduled to allow for a support person to attend meetings.
6.7 Test systems and train all staff.
Organisations such make sure their systems are robust and diverse.
Even if processes are in place and well communicated, humans can make mistakes, so organisations should ensure all appropriate staff are trained in grievance processes and be ready to act flexibly.
6.8 Commit to taking grievances seriously, record properly and proactively encourage communication.
Freelancers will worry that if they speak they will not be re-employed. The only way to counter this fear is to be the one encouraging them to speak, rather than waiting for them to do it.
Prove your intentions with action by taking all grievances seriously, recording them appropriately and keeping them confidential.
It is good practice to build in communication moments that encourage speaking out about any issues throughout a project.
6.9 Organisations should keep on top of the management of projects.
It is good practice to check in with freelancers who have been hired and then left to lead on a project. Although this can be a preferred working practice, sometimes changes in a project can go unnoticed and can leave a freelancer feeling unsupported or out of control.
If a freelancer’s role has changed this should be addressed. Are they becoming a manager of less experienced staff and are they happy with that? Have they had to deal with unexpected circumstances and have they been able to debrief and find support?
6.10 Organisations should acknowledge the use of freelancers’ time.
Meetings, administration, email conversations, phone calls, training and redrafting are all part of work. These elements of work need to be acknowledged openly in our sector.
However, it is also strikingly common for freelancers to be expected to complete preparation, deal with administration and attend meetings, training and inductions, without being offered pay.
Once a freelancer begins any work on a project, that work should be paid. Meetings and administration should be factored in as part of contracting, particularly if the freelancer isn’t reporting hours but working to a scheduled amount of hours or inclusive fee.
See our payment section for more details on transparency with hours and reporting.
6.11 Freelancers need breaks and holidays.
Freelance working naturally spills into ‘unusual hours’ and work/home boundaries can be blurred for those who work from home or across various locations.
Freelancers should ring fence time to be completely off work, and disconnected from any communication about work, in order to protect their own wellbeing.
In respect of this, organisations must listen to freelancers when they give their office hours and communicate leave.
Freelancers also have a responsibility to communicate about their hours clearly so that organisations know when to get in touch and when not to, when to respond and when to wait. E.g. if you are emailing about work in the middle of the night, communicate that you do not need a response until an agreed time.
In all cases, set clear boundaries. Both parties should then make an effort not to breach these boundaries, with ‘casual phone calls’, for example.
6.12 Pay for preparation.
Freelancer’s are experts in their fields of work and they will be able to complete some jobs immediately and in the moment.
However, with many roles, preparation time is necessary. In some sectors it is common practice to build this into the schedule and pricing of work. However, in others - facilitation, for example - it is shockingly common for preparation time to be neglected.
Organisations should enquire about preparation, budget for it and pay for it. Freelancers should communicate clearly about when they need preparation time.
6.13 Organisations should consider being publicly transparent about their staffing structures.
Knowledge about how an organisation is staffed and structured can help new freelancers understand their industry, communicate with the right people and develop routes for career progression.
6.14 Keep personal opinions out of the professional arena; be wary of unfair reputational damage caused in casual ‘post-work’ settings, or at work.
Organisations and freelancers should be mindful of their influence when discussing colleagues or work.
Be aware when you are crossing professional lines when interacting in artistic work settings; or when work has crossed over into the personal or casual, e.g. at an evening event.
This is important to think about in the context of freelancers’ wellbeing and the possibilities for building and maintaining good long term relationships.
Use professional language. Establish and use appropriate channels for feedback.
6.15 Put whistleblowing policies in place.
Unlike reporting a grievance, which is often a resolvable personal issue or complaint, whistleblowing specifically involves disclosing information about wrongdoing. The issue will be something that is likely to negatively affect the public or involve unlawful activity. You can find government guidance on whistleblowing policies here, and an example policy provided by one of our committee members here.
Small organisations or freelancers employing other freelancers will have difficulty allocating impartial grievance officers, so their alternative procedures should simply be made clear and kept flexible.
Some organisations employ an independent board member for governance purposes. Some organisations may be too small to have an impartial team member and might consider using an outside person.
Freelancers may have planned for catch up meetings and chats, costing for this as part of their fee. Sometimes the hiring process will consist of recommendations and conversations. Often there will be preparatory ‘chats’ before work commences that are on the freelancer’s own time, much in the same way that an interview or application process is not paid.
Often freelancers have a very small window of opportunity to prove themselves; work may only last a day or an hour. Freelancers can have ‘off days’ which might happen to fall when they are working on a one-off project.
Some perspective is therefore needed when judging the work or personality of a freelancer based on minimal contact time.