Grievance at Work

26 October 2020

It’s very common for workers to raise complaints and issues occasionally.

When an employee raises a grievance, you need to manage them lawfully and fairly.

The most efficient way of dealing with them is through a grievance procedure.

For an employer, there are several steps you need to follow accordingly. By doing so, you’ll be able to handle work-related issues most appropriately.

But, if you neglect them, employees may raise an employment tribunal claim against you. And these can lead to heavy compensation penalties and business damages.

In this guide, we'll look at what a grievance procedure is, examples of common grievances, and how to follow a fair process.

What is a grievance procedure?

A grievance procedure is written guidance which shows you how workplace complaints are dealt with.

Grievances can range from small concerns to serious issues. But all complaints need to be dealt with properly.

In some cases, a grievance can be resolved outside of formal settings, like through conversations. It all depends on the context of the complaint.

An employer’s grievance procedure should demonstrate all appropriate steps for minor and major complaints.

Examples of grievances at work

An employee may raise a grievance at work if they believe they've suffered from unfair or unlawful treatment.

Common examples of a grievance at work include:

These types of complaints can be raised at any time–and for any reason. They often revolve around practices or people (like a colleague, line manager, and even customers).

Green skittles lined up.

Why do employers need to follow a grievance procedure?

It's so important to have a grievance process in place–for the employer, the staff, and the overall business.

The procedure allows an employee to raise a grievance complaint if they're unhappy with their workplace.

The word 'complaint' might seem like a negative thing. But they highlight things you might miss, even as an employer. They enable you to confront workplace concerns and manage them efficiently.

Handling grievances the wrong way may lead to detrimental consequences. Staff may end up feeling undervalued or disregarded at work.

Working in this atmosphere can lead to them resigning or claiming constructive dismissal to an employment tribunal.

UK employment laws on grievance procedures

In the UK, there are no specific laws on grievance procedures. But as an employer, you should take heed of advisory employment regulations.

The ACAS Code of Practice and Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures provides rules all work practices should adhere to.

The ACAS Code of Practice demonstrates appropriate levels of behaviour and conduct during grievance cases.

Following the code is a legal requirement, so it's advised that all employers comply with it.

An employment tribunal can award up to 25% more in compensation for a successful grievance claim.

Employee rights during grievance procedures

When raising a grievance, every employee is protected against discrimination and victimisation.

If you neglect their employment rights, you could face detrimental consequences in an employment tribunal.

Some employment tribunals may force you to pay compensation penalties and collective legal fees.

One of the biggest hardships a business can face is going through employment tribunal hearings. Financial and reputational damages can be hard to recover from. That’s why it’s so important to manage work-related grievances in the most appropriate manner.

(It's not a legal requirement, but it's beneficial to follow the Code of Practice and Disciplinary and Grievance).

A person writing regulations on glass.

How to follow a fair grievance procedure in the workplace

It’s so normal for workplace issues to be raised from time to time. That’s why it’s beneficial for all businesses to have a grievance policy in place.

These policies help employees understand how their employer will resolve all types of work-related grievances.

The policy must be made available to all staff members. And include the rules in their employment contract and employee handbook.

Here is an overall look at how a grievance procedure is conducted:

  1. Discuss the grievance informally.
  2. Response to the grievance letter.
  3. Conduct an investigation.
  4. Hold a formal hearing.
  5. Decide on a final decision.
  6. Provide means to appeal.

Discuss the grievance informally

Initially, if an employee had a concern or complaint, they may think about raising a grievance to their employer informally.

In some cases, you can discuss solutions through an initial meeting or in passing conversations

An informal resolution method is always more practical and comfortable for both parties. So, try and resolve the matter this way–unless the claim requires a formal grievance procedure.

Responding to the grievance letter

When a complaint cannot be resolved informally, the employee may decide to raise a formal grievance.

If they do, the employee needs to send a letter of grievance. The letter needs to outline the scope of the problem. It also needs all relevant details, accounts, and evidence which supports their claim.

When an employer receives a written grievance letter, they should reply to it without unreasonable delay. Their writing must outline how they plan to resolve the issue, whether investigations are needed, and how an outcome will be made.

Conduct an investigation

The next step for the employer is to conduct a grievance investigation. The investigation must consider accounts from both sides respectfully.

When an investigation is held, the person in charge (investigator) must have no direct link to the case or the parties involved

You can select:

  • An external body, like a mediator.
  • A representative from your HR department.
  • An unrelated senior manager.
  • The employer.

If a formal complaint has been raised against you, it’s advisable to appoint an external investigator. That way, both parties can be assured of objectivity throughout the formal procedure.

Collecting evidence

It’s so beneficial to document all evidence in writing. This includes things like witness statements and relevant documents for the investigation.

Ensure all writing is kept safe and confidential, as this helps avoid potential tampering or losing crucial documents.

You must keep personal or financial information confidential. This helps protect the legal rights of the person involved.

Collecting all relevant facts may take a reasonable amount of time. So, it’s advisable to delay the grievance hearing until all evidence has been collected.

Dealing with disciplinaries

When dealing with grievances and disciplinaries, you might need to make a few policy changes.

If a grievance involves disciplinary action against another employee, you should delay this until after the investigation.

For example, an employee has raised multiple bullying concerns about a colleague. She’s lodged a complaint and the internal grievance procedure has started. Her grievance relates to misconduct which is normally dealt with through disciplinary action.

In this case, it’s advisable not to follow this method during a grievance investigation. Instead, wait until the investigation and hearing have been completed.

Understandably, the complainant may feel uncomfortable having to face the employee at work. Maybe move the accused to another workspace for the time being. Or follow through with temporary suspension–but you must clearly state this is unrelated to formal disciplinary action.

Hold a formal hearing

At the end of a detailed investigation, a conclusion may have been reached. They might have already chosen a resolution, where no further action will be needed.

On the other side, they may need to discuss the grievance through a formal hearing.

A formal grievance hearing is held so all the relevant documentation, evidence, and accounts can be officially examined.

Once the hearing has been conducted, the impartial judge will decide on the result.

A grievance hearing will normally run like this:

  • Everyone at the meeting is introduced (like the complainant, accused, and impartial judge).
  • Both parties will answer questions and present their evidence.
  • Witnesses (if any) will present their statements.
  • Final verdict(s) will be announced, or a further investigation will be decided.
  • Losing party will be given details on an appeals process.

The employer must set the grievance meeting in a confidential space - free from potential interruptions. This ensures all aspects of the meeting remain confidential, especially if witness accounts are presented or discussed. The claimant and the accused should not present in the same hearing – both must be conducted separately.

During the grievance hearing, employees have a legal right to representation. They might choose to bring a colleague, line manager, or trade union official to provide support or represent them.

It’s also advisable to take notes during the meeting. These should be signed and dated, which allows them to stand as an existing agreement.

Decide on a final decision

At the end of the hearing, a final decision is announced. This can be provided through a grievance outcome letter.

The judge’s or employer’s decision will demonstrate how the decision was reached and what appropriate action will take place.

The grievance outcome should consider:

  • Whether a further meeting is needed (either a retrial or through mediation).
  • If both parties fully acknowledge the scope of the grievance.
  • If both parties understand the impact of the decision on others.

The decision may also highlight workplace changes which can be actioned within a reasonable time. If a decision requires time to be implemented, it needs to be outlined in an action plan.

Provide means to appeal

During the whole process, one party is usually left unsatisfied. If they don’t agree with the end decision, they may choose to appeal against it.

All employees have a legal right to appeal the employer’s decision during a hearing.

They might extend their case to an appeal hearing because they believe the decision was unfair or inappropriate.

Whatever their reasons are, any decisions for an appeal must be given in writing - without unreasonable delay. At a later date, an appeal meeting may be held, in a court or employment tribunal.

Make sure these employees are not treated unfairly because they raised a complaint. It might seem like quite an ordeal to go through - but this is their legal right. So, keep open communication and ensure fair treatment throughout the entirety of the procedure.

(Remember, all employees have a legal right to appeal the employer’s decision during a hearing).

A judges wooden hammer resting on the mallet.

Get expert guidance on your grievance procedure with Peninsula

It’s so important for all employees to know exactly what happens during a grievance procedure.

This may not be a legal obligation, but it’s beneficial to have a proper process in place. If you don’t, you could end up neglecting employee rights - which may lead to hefty penalties and business damages.

Peninsula offers expert guidance on how to raise a formal grievance. Our team offers bespoke HR services, which help you through the legal ruling on workplace complaints.

Our 24/7 HR advice is available 365 days a year; with multi-lingual support and fully trained counsellors ready to help.

Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants. Call us today for free on 0800 028 2420

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