Grievance procedures exist to enable employers and employees to resolve any issues which may arise during the course of the working relationship. All employers are required to provide a framework for dealing with complaints from their staff. In this article we provide some hints and tips for individuals on bringing a grievance using their employer’s grievance procedure.
What is a grievance?
Grievances are concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise with their employers. This is very wide and may be about something the employer has done, or not done, about working conditions, the actions of a fellow worker or, about a third party in the workplace.
It may not be necessary to use the formal procedure
Many workplace complaints can be dealt with informally and employees are usually encouraged to raise any issues with their line manager first instance. If the complaint is about their line manager then, if possible, it should be raised with a different manager or with HR. A quiet word may be all that is required to deal with a relatively minor concern.
However, if the complaint is more serious or cannot be resolved informally, the employee needs to submit a written grievance in accordance with their employer’s formal grievance procedure.
Where do I find the grievance procedure which applies to me?
Firstly, have a look at your employment contract. This should either set out the process in full or, refer you to another document, such as the staff handbook, which contains the details of your employer’s formal grievance process. These days, many employers have their staff policies online so, search your staff intranet, if you have one. If you still are not sure then ask your HR department or relevant personnel manager.
What does a grievance procedure look like?
Your employer’s grievance procedure is likely to be modelled on the best practice process set out by ACAS in its Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures (the Code). In summary, this requires:
- an employee to set out their grievance in writing,
- the employer to then hold a meeting to discuss the grievance
- the employer notifying the employee in writing of its decision
- the employee being given a right of appeal if they are not satisfied with the initial outcome
- an appeal meeting being held (if required)
- the outcome of the appeal being notified to the employee.
Do I have to put my grievance in writing?
Yes, this will be required to initiate the process. It will also avoid any misunderstandings about the detail of your grievance and ensure the employer is in no doubt that it is a formal complaint which they need to deal with, within a reasonable amount of time. A letter or an email will satisfy the requirement that the grievance is made in writing.
What should I include in my grievance letter/email?
Your written grievance should give your employer as much detail as possible about the nature and circumstances of your complaint. This would include the date, approximate time and location of any relevant incident(s), as well as the names of any witnesses. Stick to the facts and avoid emotive language and statements or, being abusive. If there are relevant documents such as letters or emails, it will be helpful to include copies of these.
It is also really important that you state the outcome you are seeking, if you can – what would you like to happen as a result of your grievance? Remember that grievance procedures are intended to enable the parties to resolve their differences, so make it clear what action will satisfy you.
When should I submit my grievance?
Do not delay too long. When raising a grievance, there should not be any unreasonable delay between the incident (or omission) giving rise to the complaint, and the complaint being made. If you subsequently change your mind, you can always withdraw your complaint but, if you wait too long before bringing a complaint to your employer’s attention, they may not be able to investigate appropriately or, may not take it so seriously.
What should happen next?
Once a formal grievance in writing has been received, your employer should invite you to a meeting to discuss it. Ideally this should be within five working days of receipt of the grievance. However, the employer’s own procedure may lay down a different timescale; what is important is that any timetable is followed and that the grievance is dealt with without unreasonable delay.
The meeting should be held in private in a place where there will not be interruptions. There should be a note-taker to be present to accurately record the meeting (this is likely to be someone from HR). If you have a disability, let your employer know if you will need any reasonable adjustments to be made to enable you to take part in the meeting.
An employee bringing a grievance involving their employer has a legal right to bring a companion along to support them, if they wish. This companion must usually be a fellow worker or a trade union official or representative. It will not usually be reasonable to ask for a family member or solicitor to accompany you, unless this may be considered a reasonable adjustment.
You should let your employer know before the grievance meeting who, if anyone, will accompany you.
What happens at a grievance meeting?
A manager who has not previously been involved in the matter should usually conduct the grievance meeting. In smaller organisations this may not be possible and it may be appropriate to bring in an independent third party such as an HR consultant to chair the meeting.
At the meeting, an employee should be allowed to explain their grievance and how they think it should be resolved. It may be helpful to work through your grievance letter adding any further detail and answering any questions the person hearing the meeting wants to ask.
It may be necessary for the manager to adjourn the meeting so that they can follow-up and investigate the matters which have been raised. Even if this is not necessary, the manager is unlikely to give a decision straight away as they will want to go away and consider the matter. This is entirely normal.
The manager’s decision on what, if any action, will be taken should be communicated to an employee, in writing, without unreasonable delay. Any specific timelines set out in the employer’s grievance policy should be followed. If there are no timescales set then within five working days will usually be reasonable (unless the matter is complex and requires extensive investigation). You employer should keep you informed about any delay.
Where appropriate, such communication should set out what action the employer intends to take to resolve the grievance. The communication from the employer should also make it clear that the employee has a right of appeal if they are not satisfied with the decision.
Should you appeal?
If you are unhappy about your employer’s decision, yes. You may be partially satisfied with the outcome but, take issue with some of it. If this is the case you should still appeal but, make it very clear what part of the outcome you are challenging and which bit you are not. It is always best to exhaust the internal process before considering whether legal action might be the appropriate next step in resolving your complaint.
You should submit your appeal in writing within the required timescale. Explain why you believe the outcome of the initial appeal meeting was wrong (for example, was certain evidence not taken into account?) and state what redress you are seeking. Where possible, a manager who has not previously been involved with the matter should consider your appeal and a further meeting should be held so you can explain your position.
Employees have the same right to be accompanied at any appeal hearing as at the first grievance meeting. Your employer must inform you in writing of the outcome of any appeal without unreasonable delay.
How can we help you?
If you have questions because you are currently considering bringing a grievance or going through the grievance procedure, then talk to our employment law specialists today. We’ll help you figure out the best way forward for you.