Grievance Procedures in the UK

By Amanda Beattie
30 Mar 2020

Your working environment consists of individuals from different backgrounds, with unique life experiences. Because of this, conflicts around the workplace are unavoidable.

If you’re experiencing issues with employee conduct, you can contact the Croner team immediately. Call us now on 0145 585 8132 for help with your grievance at work policy

You should highlight the reporting process of reporting grievances at work. You should do so when dealing with grievance and disciplinary at work, along with the process you’ll follow to address them.

Grievances can arise in many situations. Mishandling them can lead to costly unfair dismissal claims.

Let’s examine how to handle a grievance procedure. It provides you a template that you can use as a guide when creating your organisation’s grievance process.

The grievance process

It relates to issues an employee has with a co-worker or the work process. Although raising a grievance at work isn’t something anyone looks forward to, you must handle it with care and consistency.

As soon as a member of staff makes their grievance formal, you’re required to follow the formal grievance procedure you have in place.

it’s important to have a set of procedures for dealing with complaints. However, you can refer to the Acas disciplinary and grievance procedures if you don’t.

It sets out the standards for fairness and reasonable behaviour you and your employees must follow to address conflicts at work.

Even if you create your internal disciplinary and grievance procedures, they must follow the standards set by Acas.

A basic understanding of the process involved with handling a grievance at work is vital. It's a good idea to cover the basics before getting into the details of a grievance procedure.

When dealing with grievances at work, your policies and procedures must be in writing. Ensure that they are readily available to your employees.

Consider including it in the:

  • Company handbook.
  • Contract of employment.
  • Intranet platform.

The policy should be in line with the Acas grievance procedure and include information relating to:

  • How employees should set out the details of their grievance. This includes the problem, date of the letter and suggested resolution.
  • Who to send the grievance letter to (including an alternative if the complaint relates to the original contact).
  • The initial meeting with the manager (or other appropriate contacts) to discuss the issue.
  • The process for appealing decisions.
  • The length of each stage of the grievance process.

What is a grievance procedure?

When an employee has a problem at work, the first step usually is an informal conversation with the parties involved to try to resolve the issue. This gives you the chance to address the concern quickly.

The formal grievance procedure at work begins when you receive a grievance letter from a staff member. It’ll detail the nature of their complaint, who it involves when it occurred, and any relevant evidence.

It’ll also include their suggestion for what they’d like you to do about it. We’ll begin the process from when you receive this letter.

We’ll detail the steps involved in the employee grievance procedure below.

Informal grievance procedure

Employees can raise this issue with their direct manager or supervisor. However,  in some instances, they might not feel comfortable enough to do so. Instead, they can approach another manager within the company or someone in the HR department.

When you’re made aware of a grievance, you’ll discuss it with the employee and attempt to resolve the conflict in an effective and timely manner.

Remember to keep a written record of the grievance, what you discussed as well as any actions or adjustments made.

Where you’re unable to resolve the issue with your staff, you can then attempt to address it with a formal grievance. There are three main reasons an employee might escalate their complaint to a formal grievance.

It can happen if:

  1. They’re unhappy with the result of the informal grievance.
  2. They’d prefer to deal with the matter formally.
  3. It involves serious issues like violence or whistleblowing.

Formal grievance procedure

A formal grievance procedure in the workplace begins when you receive a written grievance complaint from an employee.

There are three main stages of the grievance procedure:

  1. The meeting.
  2. The decision.
  3. The appeal.

For a better understanding of the procedure, we’ll explore the stages in detail below.

Step 1: Grievance meeting

1.1: As soon as you receive the grievance in writing you should look to scheduling a formal meeting to discuss it without delay.

1.2: Before the meeting, allow a reasonable period to consider your response to the complaint. You may also use this time to conduct a thorough investigation to determine the facts of the allegation. Keeping in mind any requests for anonymity.

1.3: Remind employees of their right to request a colleague (or trade union representative) accompany them to the grievance meeting. Remember, with the employee’s permission their companion can address the meeting and even ask questions relevant to the case. They can’t, however, answer questions on the employee’s behalf.

1.4: You can refuse a request for a companion if you think their presence might undermine the grievance process.

1.5: all relevant persons must endeavour to attend the grievance meeting. But, if an employee fails to attend the meeting without a valid reason or notice, it can proceed in their absence.

1.6: Encourage your staff to propose a resolution to their grievance.

1.7: Sometimes, you’ll need extra time to conduct further investigation before deciding on the case. You may adjourn the meeting to a later date agreed upon by everyone in attendance. Most times, it’ll be as simple as listening to both sides of a story, in other cases, you may need to collect witness statements and conduct interviews.

Step 2: The decision

2.1: After the meeting and any consequent investigation(s), you’ll set out (in writing) the outcome of the grievance meeting.

2.2: When relevant, the outcome letter should also include any action required to resolve the issue in question.

2.3: Remind the employee involved of their right to appeal any decision made during the process

3.4: Remember, whatever decision you make, you must ensure that it’s fair and appropriate.

Step 3: The appeal

3.1: Your staff have a statutory right to an appeal. The most common reason for an appeal of the outcome of a grievance meeting is because it doesn’t resolve the complaint. Or, because they feel that the process was unfair or they were unfairly treated.

3.2: If they do decide to appeal, they must state the grounds for the appeal and submit it to the relevant person within the organisation.

3.3: Specify a time limit for appealing the decision.

3.4: Once you revise the letter appealing the decision, arrange another meeting to discuss the appeal in a reasonable time. Remember to inform the employee well in advance of the time and place of the meeting.

3.5: This process should be impartial and if possible chaired by someone who wasn’t involved in the original hearing.

3.6: Remember, this process isn’t a redo of the grievance hearing. Instead, it’s to consider specific areas of the original grievance that they feel wasn’t correct or fair.

3.7: Just like the original meeting, they can invite a companion to accompany them to the appeal meeting.

3.8: After the meeting, remember to inform the employee of the outcome within a reasonable amount of time.

3.9: All decisions made at this point are final and conclude the grievance process.

Other points to remember

  • Handle grievances in the strictest of confidence as much as is reasonably possible.
  • Store confidential records of all grievances under the legislation on data protection.
  • An employee can raise a grievance during the disciplinary process. If they do, you may suspend the disciplinary process to deal with the grievance.

Remember, it’s not a legal requirement to follow this code of practice. But, there are consequences of an employer not following the grievance procedure.

If your employee’s claim ends up at an employment tribunal, you may be liable to pay up to 25% more in compensation than you would have if you followed the Acas grievance policy.

Collective grievance procedures

Acas states that it’s provisions do not apply to grievances raised on behalf of two or more employees by a representative of a recognised trade union or other appropriate workplace representatives.

This means you should have your own collective grievance procedure under which to address these grievances.

Grievance procedure time limits

No. Unlike tribunal claims, there’s no statutory time limit, which means employees can raise grievances at any time.

While you can set grievance timescales within your company policy, it wouldn’t be advisable to do so. Your staff may see it as a way of preventing them from raising issues that concern them.

If an employee wants to claim an employment tribunal,  they’ll need to do it within three months. In most circumstances, they'll need to do it from when the issue they’re complaining about happened.

It’s worth noting, this time limit still applies even when the member of staff goes through your company’s grievance procedure first.

Expert support

Work disputes are often long and complicated. We can offer you up-to-date advice on the Acas code of practice and guide you through the process of grievances. Call Croner on 0145 585 8132.

About the Author

Amanda Beattie

Amanda represents corporate clients and large public bodies, including complex discrimination and whistleblowing claims. Amanda also drafts and delivers bespoke training regarding all aspects of employment law, including ‘mock tribunal’ events; in addition she also frequently drafts employment law articles for various publications for Croner and their clients.

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