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Raising a Grievance at Work

What is the process for raising a grievance at work?

Grievances are complaints raised by an employee to their employer through a formal process. Employees can raise a grievance at work because of a broad range of workplace problems where the employer’s actions, or those of a work colleague, are felt to have been unfair or unwarranted.

Common examples include complaints relating to:

  • Pay & benefits
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Difficult working relations & personality clashes
  • Workload
  • Disciplinary process
  • Working conditions, health & safety
  • Employment terms & conditions
  • Organisational or working changes
  • Redundancy process

Who can raise a grievance at work?

All employees should have the right to raise a grievance with their employer.

Not all workers, however, are employees. You may not be an employee if you are an agency worker, a freelancer or self-employed.

While many organisations may extend the provisions of their grievance procedure to workers, you will need to check whether you come under the organisation’s grievance policy if you are not an employee of the organisation.

Guide to raising a grievance at work

Employees are usually encouraged to talk to their employer directly about the issue first, this could be your line manager or supervisor. Most workplace issues can be dealt with informally and effectively once the issue has been brought to management’s attention.

If the problem remains unresolved, you should make a formal complaint under your organisation’s internal grievance process. Your employer should have a written grievance procedure that you can refer to understand the process that should be followed. Ordinarily, this would either be a standalone grievance policy or it could be included in the employee handbook.

The ACAS code of practice sets out standards in relation to grievance procedures that both the employer and employee should follow.

In writing

Put your grievance in writing, setting out the nature of your complaint. The letter will need to give an explanation of your complaint with suggestions for resolution and details of any steps you have already taken to resolve the problem, such as talking to your line manager. Sign and date the letter and send it to the relevant individual in your organisation. This is usually your manager, but if your complaint is about your manager, you should send the letter to a different manager or to HR. Remember to keep a copy of the letter for your records.

Grievance hearing

In response to your letter, your employer should arrange a grievance hearing to discuss your grievance.

The employer and the employee should use the grievance meeting to attempt to resolve the problem that has been raised.

It’s important to prepare well. Familiarise yourself with your grievance letter and be ready to discuss and prove the points you have raised. You can take evidence and documents with you into the hearing to support your complaint.

You are allowed to bring someone to accompany you to the meeting, such as a colleague or a trade union representative, but you need to notify your employer in advance of the meeting who you intend to bring with you.

Prompt decision

After the hearing, you should be informed in writing of your employer’s decision and the process to appeal. Your employer should respond to you promptly and in writing.

Right of appeal

You may wish to appeal if you believe the decision was wrong, or that the grievance procedure was wrong or unfair, or you may have new evidence.

This means the employer has to hear your case for appeal, which could mean having to investigate the issue again, and on this basis, make a decision and inform you of this decision as soon as possible in writing.

Should the matter proceed to tribunal, failure to offer or carry out an appeal may be counted against the employer.

Your organisation’s grievance policy should explain the process to follow to make an appeal. Generally, it will involve writing to your employer, detailing your reason for appeal and why you believe the outcome was wrong or unfair and what you are proposing as a solution.

If you have a trade union representative you may wish to consult them first. An appeal hearing should then follow.

If you remain unhappy with the outcome or the process of appeal (if for example, the appeal was led by someone involved in the original grievance procedure), take legal advice on your options.

To appeal, you will need to take action quickly as timing will be a critical factor. ACAS guidance recommends notifying your employer within 5 days of the original outcome.

Should the matter not be resolved via the grievance process and you opt to pursue a claim at the employment tribunal, depending on the type of claim you intend to make, you will have only 30 days less one day of the event or incident of complaint in which to initiate tribunal proceedings. This means the grievance process will need to have been concluded and your claim documentation filed within this timeframe.

Do I have to raise a grievance before making a tribunal claim?

It is not a mandatory requirement to make a formal grievance before initiating an employment tribunal claim, such as constructive dismissal. However, the tribunal has the power to reduce any compensation awarded to you on the basis of not making a formal grievance, unless exceptional grounds apply.

A tribunal claim will always be the option of last resort. Employees are generally expected to exhaust all other routes to resolve the issue first.

If you have followed the organisation’s internal grievance procedure and raised the matter with ACAS early conciliation, but the matter remains unresolved, you could bring a claim to the employment tribunal.

Taking early legal advice can help you understand your legal position and how best to approach your complaint.

Do you need help with a grievance? 

If you are facing difficulties at work, it can be difficult to know what steps to take. Our employment lawyers are on hand to support and advise employees, including providing assistance with raising a grievance at work. Contact us for help and advice.

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