Many websites and resources providing guidance to employees on tackling problems at work neglect the importance of producing an effective written statement.
Presumably this is because those authoring such content have little or no experience of actually attending disciplinary, grievance or other similar workplace meetings. Which, of course, is understandable, since it is only possible to attend such meetings if you are either a work colleague or an official or representative of a trade union.
Well, WRS has considerable experience of employee representation at workplace meetings. We know that a well-crafted and persuasively written statement could be the single most important factor in determining whether or not you win your case.
Why a written statement is so important
You may read elsewhere that for grievance, harassment or other similar complaints, you should set out your case in a very detailed written complaint letter, in which you initially request a meeting to discuss your concerns. This is wrong.
By doing so, you provide the hearing manager with the chance to investigate and form an opinion on your complaint before you have even met. They then also have time to come up with challenging and difficult questions – perhaps under the guidance of HR or a solicitor – to put you ‘on the spot’ at your formal complaint meeting. This can seriously disrupt your chance of success.
Instead, your initial complaint letter should be brief and to the point.
Benefits of a written statement
It is only in your Written Statement – which the hearing manager will receive for the very first time at your formal meeting – that you should set out your complaint in full detail.
By doing so, you can:
- Set out a clear, detailed and persuasive narrative for your case.
- Control how the hearing manager understands your case, ensuring your points are presented in a structured way.
- Ensure you cover all the points you need to make.
- For grievance meetings, minimise the number of questions you are likely to be asked. You will be exercising greater control over the direction and tenor of the meeting.
- For disciplinary meetings, you will not merely be answering a succession of pre-prepared questions. Instead, you will have a chance to get across your own arguments.
Your Written Statement is proof of what you have said at the formal meeting. It will form part of the minutes. This means it will be a key part of your case if you subsequently take it to Appeal or employment tribunal.
Good preparation is key to producing a comprehensive and effective Written Statement.
Click here for guidance on good preparation for any Formal Meeting you will be attending.
What should be in your written statement
There are some common approaches to apply to all Written Statements:
- Adopt a structure using the following format. A brief background on you and your job. A short overview of your concerns. Details of any procedural arguments. An in-depth explanation of your case; introducing evidence and broken down into key component parts. An overview of your arguments that you want the hearing manager to examine. And finally, the outcome you are seeking.
- Use plenty of sub-headings, paragraphs and bullets to make your statement easily digestible and understood. This will also make it easier to guide you when presenting your arguments verbally at the formal hearing.
- Always remain focussed on the key points of your case. It may be tempting to include every possible argument you can think of. But if this is a distraction from the overall narrative that should be permeating through your statement, it could be counter-productive.
- The tone and content should be polite and measured. Remember, you are trying to persuade the hearing manager of the merits of your case – not bludgeon them into submission!
- If you are unfamiliar with producing written arguments, ask someone you know to read the statement once you have completed it, to be sure they understand all the points you are making.
- Be sure that you directly address all accusations or criticisms made against you.
- If there are any mitigating factors, be sure to explain what relevance they have to your case. This could be illness, personal circumstances, unreasonable work pressures, etc.
- If you accept that you have been at fault, don’t hold back from apologising. Explain that you will learn and improve from the experience
- Relate your arguments to your employer’s policies, procedures and normal practices
- Be absolutely clear about what outcome you are seeking.
Do this well and you could significantly improve your chances of a successful outcome to your case.
How to present your written statement
You will be given the opportunity to present your case at the beginning of your formal meeting.
If you are accompanied by an experienced representative, such as a union representative arranged by WRS, then that person will verbally present your statement. This will be in a confident, convincing and persuasive way. Done well, your representative will exert influence and control over how the meeting is handled, leaving the hearing manager with little need to ask you many questions, other than for points of clarification.
However, if you are representing yourself, you have one of two options:
- Either try to verbally present your case yourself. This should follow the structure of your Written Statement, to be sure you cover all relevant points. You may want to read out aloud the statement, emphasising and elaborating upon key points as you go along.
- Or, if you are lacking confidence, give the hearing manager a copy of your statement at the start of the meeting. They may then want an adjournment to read it and prepare questions to ask you.
What you certainly shouldn’t do is send a copy of your Written Statement in advance. Doing so gives the hearing manager the chance to make up their mind on your case before they have even met you. Or they could take the opportunity to receive advice and guidance on what to ask you (perhaps from HR or a solicitor). That could leave you in the tricky position of being constantly on the back-foot answering questions, instead of presenting your case in a structured and effective way
How WRS can help
WRS can use our considerable experience to prepare a highly effective and persuasive Written Statement for you.
We will first speak with you to be sure we understand all the issues. We will ask you to provide copies of all relevant company policies and procedures, emails and documentation relevant to your case. You will also be asked to provide your perspective on all the key arguments.
Your WRS representative will then produce a draft Written Statement that will be shared with you. With your feedback, several days before your Formal Meeting a final version can be agreed with which you are happy.
You can also decide whether to present your statement yourself, or arrange through WRS for an experienced union representative to accompany you to your meeting and present it on your behalf – even if you haven’t previously been a union member.