I am the managing director of a business in London. I have a close-knit team, but in the past six months or so a particular employee seems to be complaining about everything. Initially, I was very keen to help and address any grievances that he had, but now I feel that he seems to be complaining just to make life difficult. It is having an impact on the entire team and draining resources. Is there anything I can do?

It can be hard to distinguish between an employee with genuine grievances and one who is just trying to make things difficult. Dealing with the complaints can be very time consuming.

You need to reach a point where you can draw a line under the grievances, and be satisfied that you have dealt with everything. If you have not already done so, I would suggest that you invite the employee to a meeting to discuss all their grievances. Make it clear that this is an opportunity for the employee to resolve any outstanding issues. Ask the employee to write down all his concerns, and deal with each point in turn. Try to find out what is actually underlying all the complaints. Record your findings and communicate them to the employee.

Follow the Acas [Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service] code of practice.

If any of the issues raised involve discrimination allegations make sure you do not treat the employee less favourably because of the grievances, such as failing to promote him or her. Otherwise you could face a victimisation claim. Equally, if any of the allegations involve whistleblowing you need to be very cautious moving forward. If you are in any doubt, seek legal advice.

Once current matters have been fully resolved, it should be easier to deal with any subsequent spurious grievances by saying that all the employee’s concerns have been dealt with. If the employee continues to raise insincere complaints, this could eventually be a disciplinary matter but this can be problematic so be sure to take legal advice before proceeding down this route.

Rebecca Davidson is a senior associate in the employment department at Fox Williams, a law firm

Unwired by cowboy sparks

I am the owner-manager of a commercial property business in the South East. Last year I embarked on a major refurbishment of one of our office units, with a loan from the bank. Unfortunately, our contractors seem to have employed a team of cowboy electricians who made several major errors in the rewiring. The contractors have since gone bankrupt and I am very concerned that I do not have any recourse against the electricians. Can you advise?

In the current financial climate we have been advising many businesses in similar situations. First it is necessary to determine whether the rewiring issues are due to defective design, or to construction.

If it is the former you may be able to claim against the design consultant. If the contractor was responsible for both design and construction, or the issues were caused by defective construction, you will first need to consider a claim against the contractor’s administrators for breach of contract. Professional indemnity insurance may cover this but, if not, you are unlikely to recover substantial sums.

Secondly you need to consider the electricians. They have probably been employed by the contractor under a subcontract order, but you are not a party to this contract. You would need to claim in negligence, which would prevent recovery for damage to the building itself. It is possible that the subcontract grants you third-party rights.

This is becoming popular in the industry and would enable you to claim for breach under the subcontract. The bank may have entered into a collateral warranty with the electricians. Funders in construction projects often insist on collateral warranties from subcontractors, giving them a contractual relationship with the subcontractors. If a collateral warranty exists, the bank could claim against the electricians for breach of contract but would need to show that it has suffered a loss that it needs to recover. Hopefully, having considered the above you can recover at least some of your losses.

Amanda Lamb is a solicitor in the construction and energy team at Payne Hicks Beach, a law firm

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