Workplace Grievance Procedures: Signaling Fairness but Escalating Commitment
Joshua C. Polster
Over the last fifty years, nonunion employers have increasingly adopted formal
grievance procedures, which allow employees to challenge a company decision or
policy and appeal manager adjudications of the challenge. Employers have
adopted these procedures to minimize liability and ensure employee productivity.
But while these procedures signal that employees are treated fairly, the psychological
theory of escalation of commitment suggests that complaint-and-appeals procedures
exacerbate workplace conflict. This Note presents this unintended
consequence of formal grievance procedures and discusses its implications for
workplace dispute resolution. Part I explains the adoption of formal grievance procedures
as employer efforts to signal that employees are treated fairly. Part II
applies the psychological theory of escalation to grievance procedures, and Part III
argues that escalation undermines the purpose of formal grievance procedures and
proposes mediation as an escalation-reducing alternative.