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Grievance procedures

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Grievance procedures

A grievance procedure lets you make complaints to, or raise problems with, your employer. There are steps you need to take if you have a complaint and things to consider when following a grievance procedure.

When to use a grievance procedure

Problems you might want to raise with your employer could involve:

  • Your terms of employment
  • Not getting your statutory employment rights
  • Pay and working conditions
  • Disagreements with co-workers
  • Discrimination
  • Harassment/Bullying
  • Victimisation
A grievance procedure is one of the ways to resolve a problem at work. You might try talking with your employer informally before using the formal grievance procedure.

In April 2011, the set of minimum steps that had to be included in any grievance procedure, known as the 'statutory grievance procedures', were abolished and replaced with a Code of Practice issued by the Labour Relations Agency. The same change also removed the potential extension of time under the old procedures, meaning that all unfair dismissal claims now have a normal time limit of 3 months.

Your employer may have their own procedure, which includes extra steps on top of those recommended by the Code of Practice. You should follow this if you can. Any award of damages you do obtain in an Industrial Tribunal can be decreased or increased by up to 50% by the tribunal if either you or your employer has failed to follow the Code of Practice.

You shouldn't be dismissed for raising a genuine grievance about one of your statutory employment rights (e.g. about discrimination or about querying whether you have got the right wages). Neither should you suffer disadvantage (for example, not be promoted or lose overtime) for taking out a genuine grievance over your employment rights.

The Code of Practice issued by the Labour Relations Agency only applies to people defined as 'employees', although employers can extend them to other people if they want to, e.g. agency and casual workers.

The Code of Practice largely follows the previous statutory scheme. However, there is a reduced emphasis on time limits and procedures.

Using a formal grievance procedure

Letting your employer know the nature of the grievance.

In the first instance and where appropriate, you should aim to resolve your grievance informally with your line manager. Where the complaint is regarding the line manager, you should speak to a more senior manager or move straight to using the employer's formal grievance procedure.

If a grievance cannot be settled informally, you should raise it formally with management, using the formal grievance procedure. You should raise the grievance in writing, setting out the nature of the grievance and how it might be resolved. You may wish to seek help in producing your written grievance; for example, from a work colleague, a trade union or other employee representative.

Your employer's grievance procedure should say who to send your grievance to. If that's the person causing the problem, or if they've ignored previous complaints, send it to the HR department or to the person's manager.

The grievance should then be dealt with in accordance with the requirements of the formal grievance procedure. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments throughout the grievance process.

A meeting

Your grievance should be looked into in a fair and unbiased way. Your employer should invite you to a meeting (sometimes called a hearing) to discuss the problem and you should attend if you can. The meeting should be held within a reasonable time of receiving your grievance.

At the meeting you should be allowed to explain your grievance and how you think it should be resolved. The employer may adjourn the meeting for any further investigation that may be necessary. If there is someone else involved they might also be there (but you should tell your employer if you are uncomfortable with this).

The meeting should be at a convenient time for you and anyone else involved. If you think you've not had enough time to prepare, ask for more time. If your employer doesn't agree (and they don't have to), you should go to the hearing, but make sure that your lack of preparation time is noted.

Gather your thoughts before the meeting. Don't be afraid to write down what it is you want to say. There is nothing wrong with reading this out at the meeting.

It is up to your employer what format the meeting takes, but they will normally go through the issues that have been raised and give you the opportunity to comment. The main purpose of the meeting should be to try to establish the facts and find a way to resolve the problem.

If you have asked your employer beforehand, you have a legal right to take a 'companion' (who is a colleague or trade union representative) to the meeting with you. If no colleague is willing to accompany you, and you're not a union member, ask if you can bring a family member or a Citizen's Advice Bureau worker (but your employer does not have to agree to this). The companion can present and/or sum up your case, talk on your behalf and confer with you during the hearing. They're protected from unfair dismissal or other mistreatment for supporting you.

The meeting must be at a convenient time for your companion. You can ask for a postponement of up to five days if necessary to get your chosen companion there.

You should be given notes of the meeting, and copies of any information given by other people. Unless they need to investigate further, your employer should tell you reasonably quickly what's been decided, and about your right to appeal if you're not satisfied. You might be told of the outcome verbally at first, but it will usually be confirmed in writing.

An appeal meeting

If you're not satisfied with the decision, or you think the procedure followed was seriously flawed, you have the right to an appeal. This is usually heard by a higher level of management but if this isn't possible, your employer could ask a Labour Relations Agency mediator or other independent person to hear it. The appeal hearing is similar to the original meeting, and you have a right to a companion, as before.

Your employer should give you enough time to appeal. If they don't, make your appeal anyway, and say that you'll provide more information later.

If you are considering taking your issue to an Industrial Tribunal you may want to appeal even if it seems pointless, because a tribunal award could be reduced if you don't.

If you can't sort out the dispute, and your employer agrees to it, you can get help through mediation, conciliation or arbitration.

How soon can you go to a tribunal if you're still not satisfied?

If your grievance is of the type which could ultimately be taken to an Industrial Tribunal, then the normal time limit for starting your claim at the Industrial Tribunal is 3 months after the date that the problem occurred. This limit can only be extended in exceptional circumstances. If you wish to take your case to an Industrial Tribunal you should ensure you comply with the time limits.

Advice on time limits can be obtained from the sources listed below.

You should make your complaint to your employer as soon as possible after the problem occurred. If you are within the time limits for taking your case to an Industrial Tribunal, you should allow your employer time to investigate and deal with your grievance in accordance with their formal grievance procedure. Your employer should apply their formal grievance procedure within a reasonable time. If you're not satisfied with your employer's response, you can make your claim to an Industrial Tribunal, but you must do so within 3 months of the date on which the problem occurred. Do not delay bringing your case to an Industrial Tribunal to allow the formal grievance procedure to run if such delay would bring you outside the 3-month time limit, as you may then be barred from taking a case to an Industrial Tribunal.

If you fail to make use of your employer's formal grievance procedure and an Industrial Tribunal finds that failure to be unreasonable, any award of damages you obtain may be reduced by up to 50% by the tribunal.

For purposes of taking your grievance further, it is advisable to keep records of the whole process. Your employer should give you copies of the meeting records they hold.

These records should include:

  • The nature of the grievance
  • Copy of meeting records
  • What was decided and actions taken
  • The reason for the actions
  • Whether an appeal was lodged
  • The outcome of the appeal
  • Any subsequent developments
Where to get help

  • The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues. You can call the LRA helpline on 028 9032 1442 from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday.
  • Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can provide free and impartial advice. You can find your local CAB office in the phone book or online.
  • If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them.