Grievance at Work

By Deborah Manktelow
02 Nov 2020

An average working environment consists of people from different backgrounds. Each with unique life experiences working together to achieve a common goal.

When you have such diversity working together, it should come as no surprise that working styles might differ. This clash of personalities can lead to conflicts.

Conflicts can lead to a disrupted workplace. This risks employment tribunal claims if procedures aren’t followed properly.

This piece focuses on grievance at work. In it, we’ll define it according to employment law, explore the different types and offer some tips on managing it.

What is a workplace grievance?

It’s a complaint about a concern or problem. In a work setting, it relates to issues an employee may have with their colleague(s) or the work processes.

When a member of staff informs you of a problem they’re experiencing at work, it’s ‘raising a grievance’. Unless you can resolve these grievances informally, you must begin your formal procedure.

Your employee handbook should lay out the grievance process for the employee to understand.

They can do this to point out any unfair treatment of themselves or their colleagues. It can also highlight something in the work process that requires addressing.

Risks of a poorly handled procedure

When an issue arises in the workplace, it’s important to have policies in place that address the procedures for reporting and dealing with them.

If mishandled your staff can make claims for constructive unfair dismissal. This can negatively affect your brand reputation and your relationship with your employees.

It must be a full and fair procedure that follows the Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. Otherwise, grievance at work compensation is up to 25%.

Possible grievance outcomes

Following a procedure, you can come to a few different decisions based on the evidence. Disciplinary decisions must follow a disciplinary procedure. In order to resolve the problem, you must first establish a procedure.

Once you have an appropriate disciplinary procedure, the disciplinary action could be:

  • No action
  • Written warning
  • Final warning
  • Demotion
  • Dismissal
  • Mediation with a co-worker

You must offer the employee the right to appeal. You will need to have further appeal meetings. These could lead to additional investigations.

The terms and conditions of an employment statement must legally include who they can talk to about a disciplinary decision. It must also explain how to do this.

The employee can raise an appeal if they feel:

  • the outcome is too severe
  • any stage of the disciplinary procedure was wrong or unfair

Grievance at work examples

Conflicts may occur because of a variety of circumstances. From disagreements overworking styles to disputes over pay packages.

Some of the most common types of grievances at work relate to

There are two ways to raise a grievance: formally and informally.

Informal grievance process

Your staff can make an informal grievance by making a verbal complaint to their line manager. It is a good idea to encourage this channel before formal ones.

An informal grievance aims to resolve disputes as best you can before involving other departments. Because there are no rules to the process, together with the employee, you can be creative with solutions to problems.

When this occurs, the manager should seek to address it as soon as is reasonably possible. They can do so by arranging a meeting with the employee to discuss the reasons for their concerns. With this, they can come to a mutually beneficial solution.

Formal grievance process

In some cases, you may be unable to resolve an issue via the informal grievance process. The employee may also decide not to make an informal complaint in the first place.

In these cases, they’ll then raise a formal grievance in writing.

The employee can raise a formal grievance if:

  • They feel raising it informally has not worked
  • They do not want it dealt with informally
  • it’s a very serious issue, for example, sexual harassment or ‘whistleblowing’

Businesses must have a written process in place for dealing with formal grievances.

This process should set out the organisation’s commitment to fairness and equality. It should also include details of who and how to contact about the grievance.

The process should highlight 'reasonable behaviour'. Both the employee and the organisation must follow this behaviour when dealing with conflicts.

Your grievance process should follow the code of practice set out in your employee handbook and include details relating to:

  • Acting fairly and consistently.
  • Dealing with issues promptly. This includes avoiding unreasonable delays to meetings, decisions or confirmation of those decisions.
  • Conducting the necessary investigations to establish the facts before making any decisions.
  • Informing employees of the basis of the conflict and give them a chance to respond before making any decisions.
  • Reminding employees of their rights to have someone accompany them to any formal grievance hearing.
  • Advising staff on their right to appeal any decision made.

As well as including it in your employee handbook, consider making it readily available on your company intranet and in your HR manual.

It’s worth noting, Acas provides a Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. A business can use this as a guide when dealing with these issues.

Collective grievance

It's possible for groups of two or more employees can also raise a collective grievance. These can regard issues common to them all relating to their employment.

For example, they can raise issues on matters relating to the -

  • Terms and conditions of their employment.
  • Working practices.
  • Health and safety matters.
  • Organisational change.

With collective grievances, employees can decide on a representative to present their grievance.

What is a grievance meeting?

A grievance meeting is also referred to as the grievance hearing. Here, the employee that raised a grievance can expand on their concern and present evidence to support their cause.

When an employee raises a formal grievance, you should schedule a formal grievance meeting. This should schedule this within a reasonable timeframe.

Here the employee will explain their grievance and their suggestions for a resolution.

This meeting establishes the facts of the complaint, so you can adjourn the meeting if necessary. You can adjourn the meeting to conduct any investigations required to resolve the case.

Remember, all workers have a statutory right to have a ‘companion’ accompany them. This can be when they’re required or invited to attend any formal disciplinary or grievance hearing by their employer.

A companion can be a fellow worker or a trade union official.

In this meeting, you’ll:

  • Introduce yourself and everyone present at the meeting.
  • Invite the employee to state their grievance. They will provide supporting evidence and suggest a resolution. The representative or companion can address the hearing and confer with the employee, but they are not required to do so.
  • Call in witnesses to give their accounts of the event in question.
  • Consider the evidence and sum up the main points.
  • Inform all participants when he or she can expect a response or decision.
  • Outline the grievance appeals

After considering all angles and coming to a decision, you must inform all relevant parties.

While you can do this verbally, it’s important to confirm said decisions in writing. This is to avoid misunderstanding and to act as evidence if the employee takes to issue to an employment tribunal.

Remember, you should send out copies of all relevant documents to all parties involved before the meeting.

During the meeting, you should have someone taking a detailed record of what’s said and send out to all participants after the meeting.

Can an employee raise a grievance after leaving?

Yes. While employees can do this after they’ve left your employ, the results may not be as effective as it would be if they were still in your employ.

This is because you aren’t obligated to engage in the process, as its original intention was to resolve conflict among existing employees.

Can an agency worker raise a grievance?

Technically, yes. Although, most agency workers are unable to claim unfair dismissal or redundancy.

This is because they’re not considered employees of the company where they’re placed.

In some cases, agency workers can raise grievances with a business they’re placed with, it’ll depend on the wording in their contract. In this case, their trade union can provide a representative to accompany them to the grievance or disciplinary meeting.

How to respond to a grievance against you

If it’s a grievance about a particular manager, then they can't be in charge of overseeing the hearing. This should always happen, no matter the feasibility. This ensures impartiality and helps to protect the integrity of the grievance process.

Instead, consider referring the issue to the HR department. They will help approach another manager or supervisor that could mediate with impartiality.

How to file a grievance against an employee

As an employer, you cannot file a grievance against an employee. If you have issues/concerns with them then you can go through the disciplinary procedure.

Expert support

Most problems will require a robust discipline and grievance complaint procedure. Contact the experts at Croner for advice on managing Disciplinary & Grievances in the workplace on 0145 585 8132.

About the Author

Headshot of Deborah Mantkelow

Deborah Manktelow is a CIPD Qualified HR professional with over 7 years’ experience in generalist HR management working within the Construction Industry.

Working for a National provider of Insulation provided Deborah with the opportunity to strategically support Operations across the UK, supporting HR functions and the wider business.

Deborah is Croner’s Advice Manager, taking responsibility for overseeing the provision of advice to all Croner clients, bringing together our Corporate, Simplify and Association service provisions.

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