Grievance Procedures Guide

09 July 2019

During day-to-day working life, an employee may have an issue with your business. To deal with this, you need a formal grievance procedure they can use—it’s a legal requirement.

If you’re facing this issue, you can call us on 0800 028 2420 for immediate help. It’s an essential part of employment law to get right.

However, you can also read this guide—it provides essential insights into handling a complaint from a member of staff.

What is a grievance against an employer in the UK?

It’s a workplace concern an employee has with your business. Although they may also have an issue with a colleague and raise this with you.

Raising a grievance complaint at work is a legal right for staff. So, you should establish a grievance procedure for your employees. It’s a crucial reference point when resolving disputes and provides a clear structure for you to follow.

It 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 contract of employment or employee handbook.

Even if a procedure isn’t in writing, the ability to raise a grievance is an implied term of the employment contract.

What can cause grievance complaints?

Various reasons that may cause an employee mental or physical distress. There are certain grounds for grievance complaints, mainly if an employee considers a development a breach of their employment rights.

A staff member may experience interpersonal issues or feel an employer is discriminating against them.

You must take discrimination at work seriously due to the Equality Act 2010. There are nine protected characters to be aware of:

  1. Age
  2. Sex
  3. Disability
  4. Gender reassignment
  5. Marriage and civil partnership
  6. Pregnancy and maternity
  7. Race
  8. Religion/belief
  9. Sexual orientation

Other causes for complaint can include working environment, management style, and business environments.

You should gain an understanding of how you can breach the above, as a complaint for breaching one of the above can result in an employment tribunal.

This means you must avoid an unfair grievance procedure. That includes:

  • Any decision that discriminates against your employee.
  • If you fail to take a claim seriously.
  • If you don’t have a complaint procedure.

Formal vs informal grievance complaints

Most employees will initiate any grievance with an informal complaint. An informal complaint is done through discussion, rather than through the grievance system.

It is recommended that an informal procedure always precedes the formal one. If an employee comes to you with an informal complaint, it should also be taken seriously and followed up appropriately.

This means keeping a record of the complaint, holding an informal meeting and try and work towards a solution that benefits all parties.

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Types of grievances in the workplace

An issue an employee flags up can take many forms. Your business may have to face a variety of problems, so it’s important to keep an open mind.

You may receive a grievance from an individual, a group of employees, or from a union.

Grievance at work examples include: 

  • Ergonomic reasons: The environment the employee is in and whether workplace health & safety standards are high.
  • Supervision and management: Such as micromanagement and anything the employee considers as bias, favouritism, or nepotism at work.
  • Economic: Such as a request for wage adjustments if they feel they don’t receive the same pay as their colleagues. Or if their weekly/monthly wage is late.
  • Organisational issues: If the arrival of new policies and procedures cause problems for members of staff. For example, if you don’t take into consideration individuals with disabilities.
  • Staff relations: If there’s colleague conflict and feelings of victimisation.
  • Other issues: A wide variety of factors may also add to employee dissatisfaction. Including:
    • Promotions of staff over others.
    • Safety methods in use.
    • Disciplinary rules.
    • Granting leaves.
    • Sickness policy.

The variety of possibilities displays why a procedure is important to follow. It provides a structured process. And ensures you treat all employee fairly.

Who can raise a grievance and what against?

Any employee can raise a grievance with their employer. The complaint can be about anything that has happened to them at work. This can range from treatment people at work to workplace procedures, such as health and safety issues.

Grievances towards other employees can again, be applied to anyone. An employee can make a grievance complaint against treatment from their peers, subordinates, or their superiors.

Usually, the employee should raise the grievance to their line manager, even if the grievance is against their manager themselves. Equally, line managers can make grievances to their higher ups or towards subordinates.  

How should a grievance be handled professionally?

You must make it clear you’re willing to deal with complaints in a consistent and fair manner. Again, it’s a legal requirement, but also avoids a toxic work environment.

So, what should be included in a grievance procedure? Well, you need to outline the process your staff have to follow.

Below are the methods of grievance handling that are a legal requirement. This is the grievance process at work to follow:

  1. The employee can raise the issue informally with a manager. Have a discussion to see if this resolves the issue.
  2. Allow the staff member to take the complaint to a formal stage, with a written notice and a meeting.
  3. Hold an investigation into the complaint.
  4. Reach a conclusion and share the details with the employee.
  5. Allow the individual to appeal the process (if they want to).

All employees have the right to do this if they have a genuine concern. They can speak to a manager to raise the issue. 

So, this includes full and part-time staff. However, can an agency worker raise a grievance against you? Yes, they can do this against their agency or when working for you. 

As with full or part-time staff, if they want to make a formal complaint they must put their employee grievance in writing.

However, if staff concerns aren’t put in writing, that doesn’t mean you should dismiss it. Obviously, not all complaints are a grievance.

Resolving workplace grievances is a priority for your business. If you don’t, it can lead to:

  • Lower employee retention rates.
  • Legal issues.
  • Damage to your public image.

So, you should encourage employees to put their concerns to you. It’s your duty to address grievances in a timely manner—left unresolved, a complaint could become an employment tribunal.

What is a grievance meeting?

It’s a hearing with the goal of resolving a complaint from an employee.

Dealing with a grievance at work involves this meeting between the employee and a manager. The grievance hearing process includes:

  • Allowing the employee time to prepare for the hearing.
  • Offering support for the employee from a colleague or union representative—if they request it.
  • Ensuring the meeting remains private.
  • Having an open discussion where the employee explains the grievance and how they’d like to resolve it.

Following on from a grievance hearing, you’ll decide the course of action to take.

Procedure Outcomes

So, what are some of the possible grievance outcomes? Well, based on the evidence you have, you can decide to:

  • Uphold the complaint in full.
  • Partially uphold the complaint.
  • Reject the complaint in full.

As an employer, you must ensure that the best outcome is based on:

  • Findings from meetings and investigations.
  • What is fair and reasonable.
  • What the workplace has done in any similar cases before.

This decision will need communicating to the employee in a timely manner. Remind them they can appeal this.

The result may lead to a partial agreement. But what does a partially upheld grievance mean? It’s where you find failings above what is accepted and adequately put right beforehand.

The collective grievance procedure

You may have a group/collective grievance raise an issue, rather than one person making a complaint.

This is a way for colleagues to highlight an issue with your business. Staff may choose to do this as it’s a more effective approach—it’s likely to get the attention of management, which a lone voice might not achieve otherwise.

You must deal with this response with the standard procedure.

Grievance appeal process

If an employee is unhappy with the outcome of their complaint, they have the right to appeal the decision. The process should include explaining:

  • An employee’s right to appeal.
  • How they can launch an appeal.
  • The length of time allowed for an appeal.
  • How to arrange a meeting to discuss their concerns.

Following a grievance appeal, you should review the case before writing to the employee with the decision.

It’s important to state this decision is final and there’ll be no further opportunities to escalate the grievance.

Benefit to employees

Grievance procedures provide employees with all the information and steps they need to follow to raise a formal complaint.

It also ensures you take employees’ concerns seriously. And that promotes a stronger work relationship between you and your staff.

Dealing with grievances in an appropriate and timely manner is the mark of a considerate employer. It shows you treat your workforce with respect.

That’s good business practice for talent retention and long-term productivity.

Grievance procedure time limits

If it does end up at this stage, there are grievance timescales to keep in mind. This is typically three months, minus one day, from the date of an issue occurring.

So, an employee has to make sure they don’t run out of time while going through the full process and a tribunal. But that’s for them to manage.

The grievance without prejudice rule

This is a statement (written or verbal) you can make to try and settle the complaint. That’s before it reaches the stage of an employment tribunal.

And remember, withdrawing a grievance without prejudice is available to you and the employee at any time.

Although you may need to confirm that as an agreement with an employee (or you with them). You can do this in writing.

Grievance procedure template

Your procedure will need to outline the following. Here’s a sample list of the areas you’ll need to cover:

  • Your staff have the legal right to make a complaint and you’ll take this seriously.
  • What the employee must do to raise a complaint.
  • That you’ll hold a meeting to discuss the issue and then investigate it.
  • Your investigation process for gathering evidence.
  • How you’ll discuss your findings with the staff member.
  • How you’ll present the results.
  • An explanation of the appeal process and what will follow.
  • Confirmation the finding after the appeal, and you decision, is final.

Need our help?

It’s important to take grievance complaints seriously—we can guide you through the process. Get in touch for immediate support: 0800 028 2420.


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