Your workplace should be a safe, healthy and happy working environment. However, problems can and do arise at work and, if serious enough, can amount to a work grievance. There is no legal definition of grievances at work, but it will usually manifest as a complaint, problem or issue arising out of the workplace. This includes the physical environment, the terms of your contract or the behaviour of others.

Black and white image of female employee with head in hands over grievances at work

Examples of grievances at work

A grievance arises when something happens to make you feel dissatisfied, or when you’ve been treated unfairly or unjustly. Here are some common examples:

  • You feel you are being discriminated against either by your colleagues, your employer or in some cases, by a third party, such as a supplier. The discrimination might take the form of harassment, failure to get a promotion or being asked to work in unreasonable conditions because of your race, age, disability or sexual orientation.
  • The manner in which you have to work is unreasonable. This may be because you are suddenly asked to work much longer (or shorter) hours than your contract provides, you have been asked to move offices, change your hours, perform heavy lifting, work through the night, or carry out a particular type of work that isn’t suitable or doesn’t appear in your contract.
  • The physical environment you work in may be unreasonable. The kitchen or toilets could be unacceptably dirty, the premises may be too hot or too cold, or there are unaddressed health and safety hazards.
  • You may believe you are not being paid equally or treated fairly, including not being remunerated properly for expenses.
  • You may be being bullied by someone at work and your working life made so intolerable, you don’t feel able to continue.

What amounts to a grievance will vary for each individual employee and will depend on the unique circumstances of the situation. If you’re not sure whether what has happened to you amounts to a grievance which you should take up with your employer, and you may also consider getting some provisional legal advice. However, the key thing to remember is that if you believe you have a valid grievance, you are entitled to raise it with your boss.

Employer and employee having meeting in cafe about workplace grievance

How to raise a grievance with your employer

Whilst there is no hard-and-fast set of rules for how an employee should raise a grievance and what your employer should do, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) have a Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. The provisions of this Code of Practice are the very minimum an employer should follow for handling these issues in the workplace.

An employee should never be dismissed or placed at a disadvantaged because they have raised a genuine grievance. If you are, you may have legal claims against your employer including for whistleblowing or victimisation.

Talking to your employer about grievances at work

Start by talking to your boss about the issue. You could raise it informally in conversation or ask for an informal meeting. There is nothing to stop you raising it by email if you find it hard to talk to your boss.

Alternatively, raise it with HR or with your line manager. Often, all that is needed is a quiet word and the issue can be successfully resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Raising the issue formally

If you haven’t managed to resolve things informally, you will need to raise the matter formally. Your employer should have a written procedure or company handbook which sets out how you should do this. If you don’t know where to find this information, check your contract or ask your employer (this is a legal requirement), HR department or manager.

Usually, the formal grievance procedure explains:

  • who you should contact to deal with the issue;
  • the need to put your grievance in writing and provide full details (make sure your letter is dated and that you keep a copy);
  • that on receipt of the complaint, your employer should arrange a meeting with you to discuss your grievance;
  • that you have the right to appeal your employer’s decision.

Formal meeting on outside bench between employer and employee

Meeting to discuss grievances at work

The meeting should be arranged within a reasonable time of you raising the grievance. You are entitled to have someone accompany you, but you must ask your employer first. You can take a colleague or trade union representative. Take along any notes or evidence that you think will be useful and try to think about how you would like to resolve the matter.

After the meeting, your employer must either postpone their decision while they carry out any necessary further investigations, or – within a reasonable time period – give you written notice of their decision and what action, if any, they are going to take.

Appealing the decision

If you are not satisfied with your employer’s decision or the action they propose to take, you can appeal. You should do so in writing within a ‘reasonable’ period after their decision. The formal grievance procedure should include details of the appeal procedure you need to follow.

Your employer should then arrange a further meeting, ideally with more senior personnel, to deal with it. Again, you can take someone with you, and after the appeal meeting, your employer should write to tell you their final decision.

Close up of appeal document

Issuing a claim against your employer

If you’re still not happy with your employer’s decision, you may want to consider resigning and/or issuing a claim via the Employment Tribunal. We would recommend that you seek legal advice at this stage before taking either course of action.

If you resign you may be left having to bring a notoriously difficult constructive dismissal claim. If you were to start tribunal proceedings there is no guarantee of success at a Tribunal, but you will be able to take advantage of the pre-claim conciliation procedure. You should talk to an employment lawyer first about your chances of success and any financial award that may be made.

If you’d like to know more about how to handle a grievance at work, or you are considering advancing a grievance to tribunal stage, please get in touch. Our experienced team of employment law specialists will be happy to assist.

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