If you have a work-related complaint, and informal steps have failed to resolve the issue, you may need to write a grievance letter to raise a grievance with your employer.
Different employers can operate different procedures for making a grievance, but in most cases this will entail you writing a grievance letter. Below we look at the rules relating to grievances, with a specific focus on what to write in your grievance letter.
What is a grievance letter?
A grievance is where an employee has concerns, problems or a complaint arising out of a situation at work that they wish to take up with their employer. The purpose of the grievance process is to provide employees with a forum to raise issues and concerns and to allow the employer the opportunity to remedy any issues.
You might raise a grievance about things you are being asked to do as part of your job, the terms and conditions of your employment contract or the way you are being treated at work, including bullying, harassment, victimisation and/or discrimination.
The grievance letter itself should set out the nature of the grievance is the employee’s opportunity to explain, in writing, the basis of their complaint and what steps they would like to be taken to resolve the matter.
Do I have to raise a grievance?
Many grievances within the workplace can be resolved informally, whereby a quiet word is often all that is required. However, where attempts to resolve the situation on an informal basis prove to be unsuccessful, the matter may instead be pursued through a formal grievance procedure.
Where your employer has a written procedure in place for raising a grievance, you should try to follow this procedure, wherever possible, including use of any template grievance letter. In this way, you will avoid any delay or difficulties in the matter being dealt with and resolved.
Your employer’s grievance procedure should be available in either your contract of employment, in any company handbook or personnel manual, or on the staff intranet site.
In the absence of any written grievance procedure in your workplace, you should still lodge a formal written grievance, albeit instead following the Acas statutory Code of Practice on handling grievance situations in the workplace.
This Code sets out the procedure that you and your employer should follow, including the basic requirements of fairness and reasonable behaviour that will be applicable in most cases. Although any failure to follow the Code does not, in itself, make an employee or employer liable to proceedings, an employment tribunal will take the Code into account in relevant cases when determining liability and compensation can be reduced where the tribunal finds a party has failed to follow the required steps.
Although you are not legally required to raise a formal grievance before making a claim to an employment tribunal, any failure to do so may be construed as unreasonable, resulting in the tribunal reducing any award of compensation.
What should the grievance letter contain?
A grievance letter does not need to be pages long. On the contrary, the content should be clear and concise, containing only an outline of your complaint.
Needless to say, you will need to provide sufficient detail within your grievance letter for your employer to understand the nature of your complaint and to be able to investigate the matter fully, including key facts such as dates, times and locations of incidents, as well as the names of those involved and any witnesses.
You should bear in mind that you will have an opportunity to expand on any of the points you make within your letter and to produce any evidence in support during the grievance hearing, although you should still make specific reference to any documentary or other evidence that you are seeking to rely on.
If you are the victim of serious misconduct in the workplace, such as bullying, the impact of such behaviour can be upsetting. As such, there is often a temptation to write down every single detail and to do so in a highly emotive manner.
However, when writing a grievance letter you should keep your emotions in check, in particular, avoiding the use of any insulting or abusive language.
Further, you should stick to the facts. It is important not to make any accusations that you cannot prove, as unsubstantiated allegations are likely to undermine your grievance both with your employer and to an employment tribunal.
That said, it is perfectly acceptable to use the grievance letter to explain the impact that the behaviour or treatment that you have been subjected to has had on you, as well as how you would like the issue(s) to be dealt with and what attempts you have already made to informally resolve the matter.
For employees who do not feel able to write a grievance letter on their own, either due to language or other difficulties, they can seek help from a co-worker, as well as a trade union or other employee representative.
You may also want to secure expert legal advice where there are potentially complex issues of law involved, for example, where your complaint relates to whistleblowing, ie; reporting serious wrongdoing in the workplace such as the commission of a criminal offence.
Use the following tips when drafting your grievance letter:
- Write the letter as if the recipient has no knowledge of you or your complaint, thereby making it easier for an employment tribunal to understand the context of the grievance in the event of any future claim.
- Start with a short introduction setting out a brief history of your employment, including your start date and the nature of your job role, together with a brief summary of events leading up to your complaint.
- Set out your complaint in sufficient detail for your employer to understand the nature of your grievance and to investigate the matter fully, albeit keeping the content clear and concise.
- Where at all possible, include key facts such as dates, times and locations of incidents, as well as the names of those involved and of any witnesses.
- Where there is a series of complaints or lots of detail involved, either use a timeline of events, or otherwise keep the facts and circumstances surrounding your complaint in chronological order.
- Know what you want to say within your grievance letter and decide what is and isn’t relevant, sticking to the facts.
- Don’t make allegations or accusations that you cannot prove.
- Avoid abusive and insulting language, always keeping your emotions in check.
- Make specific reference to any documentary or other evidence in support of your complaint, attaching copies where practical.
- Explain the impact that the behaviour or treatment that you have been subjected to has had on you.
- Explain what attempts you have made to informally resolve the matter.
- Ask for your employer to organise a grievance hearing, providing the name of any person you would like to accompany you.
- Set out what steps you would like to be taken to resolve the matter, for example, disciplinary action or training for the person that you have complained about.
- Ensure that you sign and date the grievance letter, and retain a copy for your records in the event of any future tribunal claim.
Who to send the letter to
It is important that you address your grievance letter to the right person. In circumstances where your employer has a written grievance procedure this may contain details of who to address your complaint to.
However, in the absence of a written procedure, you should forward your letter to a senior member of staff who is not the subject of the grievance. For example, where the grievance is against your line manager, you may approach another manager or raise the issue with the HR department if there is one.
In small firms run by either the owner or manager, there will usually be no alternative person to raise a grievance with. That said, the fact that you may need to address the grievance letter to the person against whom you are making the complaint, should not preclude you from raising the matter formally in writing.
When to send the grievance letter
There is no set timeframe within which to raise a written grievance. That said, where attempts have already been made to resolve the matter informally without success, or where the matter is serious, you should formally raise your grievance without unreasonable delay.
Moreover, to make a claim to the employment tribunal in relation to a matter arising out of your complaint, typically you will need to do so within three months less one day of the last date of conduct of which you are complaining.
If you do end up making a claim to an employment tribunal, the time limits are strict, so you will need to ensure that you don’t run out of time whilst going through the grievance procedure.
After the grievance letter has been sent
Having raised a formal grievance, your employer has a duty to investigate the matter and provide you with a written outcome. As such, your employer should arrange for a grievance hearing without unreasonable delay, ideally within five working days.
As indicated above, this hearing will provide you with the opportunity to explain your grievance in detail and how you would like the matter to be resolved. In some cases, depending upon the nature of the complaint, the meeting will need to be adjourned for further investigation to take place.
You have a statutory right to be accompanied at any grievance meeting in which the employer is dealing with a complaint about a “duty owed by them to a worker”. This includes any meeting held with them to hear further detail about, gather facts about, discuss, consider or resolve your grievance.
An employer’s duties to a worker include both their legal and contractual obligations, for example, where you have alleged that the employer is not honouring the terms of your employment contract or that there has been a breach of your statutory or common law rights. In any grievances raised about other types of issues, the right of accompaniment may not apply.
Where the right does apply, you can be accompanied either by a co-worker, a trade union representative or an official employed by a trade union. However, to exercise the right to be accompanied you must first make a reasonable request.
What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances of each individual case, although the request does not need to be in writing or even within a certain timeframe. However, you will need to provide enough time for the employer to deal with your companion’s attendance at the grievance hearing.
What happens if the matter is not satisfactorily resolved?
Following the meeting, assuming all necessary investigations have been undertaken at that stage, your employer should provide you with a decision in writing, normally within 24 hours.
In circumstances where it proves necessary to gather further information before making a decision, you should be informed of this by your employer and told of the likely timescale involved.
In the event that you do not agree with some or all of your employer’s findings, you have a right to appeal. However, you should let your employer know the grounds for your appeal without unreasonable delay and in writing.
Thereafter, the appeal should also be heard without unreasonable delay, and at a time and place that should be notified to you in advance. You will again have the statutory right to be accompanied at this hearing.
Wherever possible, the appeal hearing should be dealt with by a manager or senior member of staff who has not previously been involved in the case. Thereafter, the outcome of the appeal should be communicated to you in writing.
If you are unhappy with any final decision made by your employer, you may want to consider making an employment tribunal claim, although expert legal advice should always be sought first.
Our employment law specialists offer advice and guidance to employees and workers facing issues at work. If you are considering raising a grievance or are concerned about your options in light of a workplace issue, contact us.