Handling personal cases - the basics

Make yourself known to members -

PCS representatives will need to ensure that all PCS members within the area that they cover are aware of who they are and how to contact them.  PCS can provide posters for display on workplace notice boards for this purpose – contact your regional or bargaining group organiser.

Understanding reasons for Personal cases -

Members will usually contact you for one of two reasons – either they have an issue where they are unhappy with the employer’s approach or they may have been told by the employer to attend a meeting to discuss a problem that the employer has with them – possibly a disciplinary meeting.

Right to be accompanied -

All union members have a right to be accompanied to certain types of meeting by their union representative – those which may have a disciplinary outcome and meetings to progress a grievance.  Where the date of the meeting has already been set, you should try where possible to undertake necessary preparations and be available for that meeting. But members have a right, where their representative is not available for a specific date/time to request that the meeting with management is re-arranged.  They can offer an alternative date/time, provided that it is within 5 working days of the original meeting proposed.

Treat each case in the same professional manner -

You will come across cases where you have prior knowledge of the member who has asked for help. You may have pre-conceived ideas about the member, based on his or her past behaviour. It is important to treat each case, regardless of the member involved, with the same professional approach. There may be good reason for his or her previous actions, and you should not let the views of other staff influence how you progress a case. Provide the best representation you can in every case.

Act professionally when dealing with management –

There is little or nothing to be gained from adopting a confrontational approach to management.  Even where management’s faults are glaring, don’t try to make them concede their errors – it is securing an acceptable outcome that is important, not trying to ‘score points’ for their errors.  Always treat them courteously and do not lose your temper. Remember that you may have cases in the future where the member is at fault – management are less likely to agree a more lenient line if you have been unprofessional in the past.

Confidentiality -

This is essential. Make it clear to the member at the outset that any discussion you have with him or her will remain confidential and that you will only disclose information with their consent. Without gaining trust in this way, the member may withhold important facts pertinent to the case, and make it difficult for you to win, or to give accurate advice on the prospects of the claim.

Managing expectations –

You need to start from the first contact to ensure that the member’s expectations of what you can do are reasonable.  This applies to the time that you can devote to the case, as well as likely outcomes. Do not promise too much before you are sure that you can deliver it – otherwise you are only storing up difficulties for yourself in the future.  PCS has produced an information pack for members with personal case issues - ensure the member has a copy.

Keep accurate paperwork –

This can often seem unimportant, particularly if the case seems straightforward – but without accurate and complete paperwork, you will be unable to make proper plans to progress the case, you may have to go back to the start if things don’t progress as you expected and it is almost impossible to pass the case on, for advice, legal opinion or to a more experienced rep. It is also important that personal case paperwork is preserved after cases have been concluded – PCS remains liable to actions for professional negligence for 6 years beyond the end date of any possible action and it is vital to defence against such cases that the paperwork can be readily provided.

Get trained –

Although this guide and other supporting materials from PCS will assist you to deal with personal case issues, there is no substitute for proper training. PCS and the TUC offer a range of courses for PCS representatives.

Ask for help, if needed –

You are not on your own: the whole idea of a union is to harness the collective strength of the organisation to assist others.  Each section of PCS should provide details of how you can contact more experienced or more senior representatives, to provide you with advice and guidance on how to handle personal casework.  Through these, or through your full-time officer, you can also access professional and/or legal advice on the issues involved.  You may also find some assistance on the ‘Where I work’ pages. 
 

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