View level: Coping with Employee Grievances in India

Workplace complaints are inevitable. Indeed, it is said that a complaint has purpose in life! Unattended complaints are like loose cannonballs in a ship – if not handled well, they can destroy the ship.

A clear, transparent, fast, robust, and confidential system for resolving complaints can be effective in managing conflicts in the workplace and potentially making a great contribution to harmony in the workplace. Some of the better jobs have an effective mechanism for resolving employee complaints. For others, it may only be an hour.

A recent session on employee relations for a leading manufacturing company in India addressed unclear organizational strategies, ad hoc / inconsistent decision-making, lack of trust, inability to effectively solve problems, immoral approach and lack of transparency, poor communication, low commitment to, among other things Employees / union members and inability to manage expectations, among others. In the same session, HR managers reported building trust, having honest and open conversations with unions, managing employee aspirations, changing the mindset of employees and unions, managing multiple unions, building effective relationships with unions, managing discipline, the Improving productivity and constantly changing approach of the organization, changing demographics, changing the legal landscape, and understanding the legality and provisions of various laws as their main employee relationship challenges.

In India, certain central and country-specific labor laws require the employer to put in place certain mechanisms to resolve complaints in the workplace. Here is a short list of various mechanisms under various laws that HR managers should be familiar with and incorporate into their HR policies and practices:

  • Internal complaints committee: Under the Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redress) Act of 2013 (POSH Act) of India (POSH Act), every workplace with at least 10 employees must establish an Internal Complaints Committee (IC). The IC must investigate complaints about sexual harassment of women in the workplace and make recommendations to the employer. The IC has the same powers as a civil court (under the 1908 Code of Civil Procedure) and can serve for three years. The law gives the IC 90 days to complete its investigation and an additional 10 days to issue the report.

    In the case of Vidya Akhave v. Union of India and Ors.[i] (Bombay High Court), the Hon. The judge believed that the IC should also act freely and transparently to ensure that sexual harassment complaints are seriously investigated without prejudice.

  • Complaints Committee: Under Section 9C of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 in India (IDA), each employer employs at least 20 people[ii]is required to set up a Grievance Redressal Committee (GRC) to resolve disputes arising from complaints from workers. The GRC should consist of no more than six members and have an equal number of representatives from both management and working classes.

    The 2019 draft Labor Relations Code introduced in Lok Sabha suggests that the industrial company should have one or more GRCs to resolve disputes arising from complaints made by individual workers regarding non-employment, terms of employment, or working conditions. It is also proposed to increase the total number of GRC members to ten.

    Although a GRC has been mandated by IDA, an employer who already has an established complaint resolution process may not need to set up a separate GRC.

  • Employee Health and Safety Committee: Certain Indian states such as Maharashtra (for employers in Mumbai and Pune) require employers who employ 100 or more workers to set up a health, safety and social affairs committee
    (HSW committee). The task of the HSW committee is to examine and identify accident-prone or dangerous objects or places in the premises, to eliminate these places, to carry out health camps once a year, to create awareness of contagious diseases, epidemics or natural disasters, leisure and To carry out cultural activities. and implementation of social and educational awareness programs. The HSW committee should consist of the same number of employer and employee representatives.

    The 2019 draft Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, which aims to consolidate 13 federal labor laws in India, provides that every worker has the right to receive information from the employer about the worker’s health and safety in the workplace. The employee may also be represented vis-à-vis the employer directly or through a member of the safety committee.

    where applicable, in relation to inadequate precautions to protect his safety or health in connection with the workplace.

  • Whistleblowing in India: The Companies Act 2013 requires certain categories of companies to have a vigilance mechanism in place (similar to whistleblowing channels). Any publicly traded company and those that accept deposits from the public or have borrowed from banks and public finance institutions over INR 50 million (approximately $ 7 million) must have a vigilance mechanism in place.[iii] Additionally, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) requires every publicly traded company that its directors and employees have whistleblower guidelines or vigilance mechanisms in place to report real concerns and post the details on their website.[iv]

    While the 2015 Whistleblower Protection Act (amendment) was introduced by Lok Sabha, it has yet to be passed as law. Accordingly, private employers in India (unlisted companies) still have to be commissioned with a whistleblowing policy.

In addition to internal channels, employees can also use external mechanisms. Indian labor law also provides a list of acts that are construed as unfair labor practices by the employer. Among other things, the dismissal or dismissal of employees by victimization, not in good faith or by exercising the employer’s rights in a way that can be colored, is viewed by the employer as an unfair labor practice for which the employee can bring an industrial action. In such situations, workers can go to the labor courts and tribunals to resolve their labor disputes. The IDA also provides for the appointment of arbitrators to try to reconcile workers’ complaints before the case is referred to the Labor Court or Labor Court.

In order to discourage employees from going outside and to give employees the opportunity to complain anonymously, some of the progressive organizations have effectively and voluntarily adopted guidelines and implemented mechanisms to proactively address employee complaints across the company. For example, it is common for companies headquartered in the US and Europe with large offices in India to expand their online ethics hotline to allow their employees in India to report conduct that is unethical, unprofessional, illegal, or otherwise incompatible with the guidelines or the organization’s code of conduct. Some organizations prefer a more informal facility like an Open Door Policy to encourage employees to resolve disputes faster and more easily through informal discussions.

While there is no magic bullet, effective employee grievance mechanisms can legally protect employers in a variety of situations, especially in today’s work environment where workers are well informed about their rights and entitlements. Some workers may not have legal protection as non-workers or because of the nature of the employment. However, increasing tendencies of “worker activism” are becoming an acceptable norm for resolving their complaints.

Resolving the complaint quickly and fairly is the key to success. A positive and empathetic approach, regardless of the outcome of the reparation, is usually more productive and valued. However, it is compulsory to know and comply with various legal provisions, and the law must be followed verbally and spiritually. As generally said, one stitch saves nine!


[i] MANU / MH / 2037/2016

[ii] Worker was defined as “worker” means any person (including an apprentice) employed in an industry to carry out manual, unskilled, skilled, technical, operational, office or supervisory work for recruitment or reward, regardless of who Terms of employment be express or tacit and, for the purposes of proceedings under this Act in relation to an industrial action, include any person who has been dismissed, dismissed or dismissed in connection with or as a result of such dispute or whose dismissal discharge or reduction has led to this dispute, however, does not include such a person.

(i) who is subject to the Air Force Act of 1950 (45 of 1950) or the Army Act of 1950 (46 of 1950). or the Navy Act of 1957 (62 of 1957); or

(ii) anyone employed in the police force or as a civil servant or other employee of a prison; or

(iii) who is primarily employed in a managerial or administrative function; or

(iv) who, in a supervisory role, receives wages in excess of ten thousand rupees per canteen or exercise, either because of the nature of the duties attached to the office or because of the powers conferred on him, which are primarily of a managerial nature.

[iii] Rule 7, Rules for Companies (Board Meetings and Their Powers), 2014

[iv] Rules of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (listing and disclosure requirements), 2015

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