Grievances are workplace concerns or issues raised by an employee with their employer. By law, employers must provide their staff with a method of dealing with grievances in an appropriate manner.

Grievance procedures are a crucial reference point when resolving disputes raised by staff and provide a clear structure to follow if an issue should arise.

Grievance procedures should be easily accessible to all employees – whether full-time, part-time, temporary or trainee – and explained in detail as part of their induction. This usually forms part of the employment contract or employee handbook. Even if a procedure is not documented in writing, the ability to raise a grievance is a considered an implied term of the employment contract.

Employers may have already covered much of the same ground in a separate disciplinary or harassment policy that details the necessary steps to raising a formal grievance. In any case, the procedure should be explained and made readily available to all employees.

What does a grievance procedure include?

A well-formed grievance procedure should aim to include these steps for employees to follow as standard:

  • Submit a formal written letter that details the grievance
  • A formal meeting will be arranged to discuss the issue in detail
  • The ability to appeal an employer’s decision

If an employer is still unsure as to the range of factors they should include in their standard grievance procedure, the Acas guidelines on this topic provide further useful support. It is also the duty of the employer to address grievances in a timely manner; left unresolved, these issues could result in a tribunal claim against the employer.

For further advice, we recommend getting in touch with one of our grievance experts as soon as possible to protect the best interests of your business.

The grievance hearing process

A grievance hearing is a meeting between the employee and their superior(s) to discuss the grievance in question. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure the employee feels comfortable, which includes:

  • Allowing the employee time to prepare for the hearing
  • Allowing the employee to be accompanied
  • Ensuring the meeting remains private
  • Having an open discussion where the employee explains the grievance and how they foresee it being resolved

Following on from a grievance hearing, the employer will decide the course of action which will be taken. This final decision will need to be communicated to the employee in a timely manner, with the employee being reminded that they are allowed to appeal the decision if they are not satisfied with the outcome.

Appeal process

If an employee is unhappy with the outcome of a grievance hearing they have the right to appeal the decision. An appeal process is usually outlined in the employee contract, however it could also be included in an employee handbook or similar document. An appeal process should include the following:

  • An employees rights to appeal
  • How to launch an appeal
  • The length of time allowed for an appeal
  • How to arrange an appeals meeting

Following a grievance appeal, the employer should review the case before writing to the employee with the decision. It is important to explicitly state this decision is final and there are no opportunities to escalate the grievance further.

Benefit to employees

Grievance procedures provide employees with all the information and steps they need to follow in order to raise a formal complaint. It also makes all employees aware that their concerns are taken seriously, which promotes a stronger work relationship between staff and their employer.

Dealing with grievances in an appropriate and timely manner is the mark of a considerate employer who treats their workforce with respect, which bodes well for talent retention and productivity in the long term.

The law behind grievance procedures

Although it is not formal legislation, businesses should follow the guidelines listed in the Acas Discipline & Grievance Code of Practice to ensure best practice.

Summary

  • Employers are required by law to deal with employee grievances in an appropriate and timely manner.
  • A written grievance policy forms a key reference point for both employers and employees when dealing with significant work-related issues.
  • Businesses should familiarise themselves with the Acas Discipline & Grievance Code of Practice.