Disputes and grievances

Volunteers are energetic, interesting, good-natured people. The idea of conflict and bullying doesn’t fit well. Surprisingly, it is actually a big issue and can be a part of any organisation when a variety of people are brought together who are all passionate and wanting to contribute. Whether it is volunteer/staff relations that are causing tension or volunteers amongst themselves who are disagreeing, it is important that problems are brought to light early and resolved using the correct process and procedures.

Common reasons for conflict include:

  • Dismissing new ideas
  • Tension between new and old members
  • Heavy workloads
  • Introducing change
  • A poor relationship between staff and volunteers
  • Volunteers not feeling respected

Volunteer rights

Volunteers have the right to express grievances, dissatisfaction and concerns with the volunteer program or organisation and to have their grievances heard, respected and dealt with in a professional, efficient and fair manner.

It is therefore important to ensure volunteers are aware of the internal dispute and grievances policy and it is easily accessible.

What is a disputes and grievances policy?

A disputes and grievances policy is a written document that outlines the process of making a complaint, how it is resolved and who is responsible for resolving it.

What if we don't have a policy?

All organisations should have a disputes and grievances policy. If you don’t have one, it is easy to create. A disputes and grievances policy should be clear, concise and available to all your volunteers and staff.

What needs to go in it?

If you are writing a disputes and grievances policy, provide clear step-by-step instructions on who the complainant needs to speak to. Normally this is the manager of the department.

The manager should arrange to meet the volunteer to talk about the issue and try to resolve the issue internally. It is important to have another manager or director available as an alternative contact person in case the complainant has a problem with the manager and doesn’t feel comfortable approaching him or her. It is a good idea to create the disputes and grievance policy as a flow chart.

If a solution isn't found after the first meeting between the complainant and manager and neither party is satisfied with the outcome, the next step would be for the manager’s supervisor to be involved in discussions.

It is best for disputes and grievances to be solved internally. However, if after approaching all levels of management, the dispute cannot be resolved, a third party can be brought into discussions. This third party could be the local volunteer resource centre. Volunteers can also call the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria, which offers free mediation services to all Victorians.

It is important for all discussions to be friendly, and open and for the volunteer to be encouraged to be direct. Make sure the meeting takes place where it is convenient for both parties and the volunteer feels comfortable – somewhere his or her privacy isn’t jeopardised.

How long should the policy be?

The dispute grievance policy should be short and concise, no longer than a page. The best way is to present it as a flow chart.

What now?

Don't be afraid of receiving complaints or disputes. It is better to solve the problem in the beginning than let it escalate. When your disputes and grievances policy is finalised, make the document public and upload it to your website. It is no good having a dispute and grievances policy if no one knows it exists. Make sure your volunteers understand the disputes and grievances policy and whom to go to for assistance. For new volunteers, it can be incorporated into the induction.

Tips for dealing with grievances and disputes

  • Don't ignore or hide from the problem, listen to what the problem is from both sides
  • Don't take the problem as a personal attack or criticism
  • Work with the people involved to find the best possible solution
  • If necessary, involve a third person.

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Tools and resources

Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria
The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria (DSCV) is a free dispute resolution service that provides mediation services, as well as training and accrediting mediators to national standards.

Volunteering Queensland - Exit interview questionnaire (PDF 161KB)
A good resource to help with ideas for developing exit interviews for volunteers.

Volunteering Queensland - Grievance report form (PDF 130KB)
An example of a grievance report form that your organisation can use.

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