Understanding the grievance process is crucial if you wish successfully to raise a grievance – or serious complaint – with your employer about your work situation. If you have tried raising a matter verbally or informally in writing, and there is still no resolution, then, subject to the points mentioned above, it’s time to consider instigating a formal written grievance process.
Often, taking this serious step may mean that you have already decided to leave your job. Or perhaps you just want to record the fact that you have been mistreated and wish to seek a resolution in the workplace.
Submitting – or raising – a formal grievance essentially means making a significant complaint in writing about an aspect of your work situation and/or working conditions about which you are very concerned or ‘aggrieved’ (hence the word ‘grievance’).
The difference between submitting a formal grievance and an informal email about your complaint may be seem to be insignificant. In theory, they would both say what your complaint was – but there is a big difference in practice.
This is because the ACAS code of practice sets out a procedure which employers should follow upon receipt of a formal grievance. The purpose of the code of practice is to ensure that your employer will investigate your complaint thoroughly and put right any bad practices or behaviours which may have led you to raise a grievance in the first place.
What is the correct procedure that employers (and you) should follow when you raise a grievance?
1. Grievance letter (or email)
As the employee, you should submit your formal written grievance. Our guide on grievance letters and templates sets out how to structure your letter and also allows you to download examples.
The letter can take the form of a conventional letter printed on paper, an electronic letter sent as an email attachment, or even an email, so long as the content makes it quite clear that this is a formal grievance.
After your employer has received your grievance letter, they should ask you to attend a meeting and give you the opportunity to bring a friend, colleague or union representative to that meeting. Your employer is meant to convene this meeting within a ‘reasonable ‘ amount of time following their receipt of your letter, but if they fail to do so, then email them and remind them of their obligations under the ACAS code.
A manager and someone from HR will probably attend this meeting, with the HR representative taking notes. You – or preferably the person you have chosen to accompany you – should also take your own notes. These should be as detailed as you can manage and you should type them up immediately after the meeting, together with any other detail that you can recall. Then send a copy of your notes to the HR person who was present at the meeting and ask for their comment.
If what’s said at the meeting isn’t recorded in writing as close as possible to the time of the meeting, then it’s likely that both you and your employer will have entirely different memories of what was said. In which case you will certainly have problems if your case goes to tribunal! This advice is not only applicable to grievance meetings, but also to Without Prejudice meetings and any others between you and your employer.
See our article on Grievance meetings: dos and don’ts for further guidance and advice on grievance meetings.
3. Outcome letter
Soon after the above meeting, your employer should inform you in writing of the outcome. (Most grievances are rejected by employers at this stage.) The letter should explain why your grievance was unsuccessful and your right to appeal against the outcome. Once the reasons for dismissing your case are recorded in writing, your employer is committed to them and can’t subsequently try to change their account.
Sometimes an unscruplous employer will accept the validity of part of your grievance, but not the more important accusations that you’ve made. They can then claim that they have given your grievance proper consideration and that they have acted equitably overall. If you think your employer has failed to uphold the more important elements of your grievance, even though you have provided evidence to support your claims, then you must appeal the outcome.
4. Grievance appeal letter
You can usually appeal to management higher up in your organisation, or to another line-manager (providing your organisation is sufficiently large). The appeal letter is similar to your initial letter, but gives you the opportunity to state your views about the outcome letter.
Concentrate in your appeal on the outcome letter and your employer’s decisions. (You should not seek to have your case heard all over again.) Focus on the reasons why your employer’s decision not to uphold your grievance, or part of it, was incorrect. Draw attention to the evidence that you have to support your arguments. If your employer has not responded in the outcome letter to any part of your grievance, then you should say so in your appeal.
A meeting will then be held to discuss the points of your appeal and to identify if any further investigation is warranted.
Your employer will write to you giving you a final outcome to your appeal. This is normally the final decision and there is no further right of appeal. If you believe that the decision is unfair or unjustified then you can either commence without prejudice discussions, or you can look into making a claim at an employment tribunal if you have grounds for such a claim.
There is an appeal letter template available to download in the grievance letter template section of the website.
5. Grievance appeal meeting
As for point 2. above.
6. Grievance appeal outcome
As for point 3. above.
7. Next steps
Issue tribunal proceedings on form ET1 (Employment Tribunal Form).
Top TipsGarvey Hanchard
Your grievance should always be in a written form and numbered paragraphs are always helpful
Always take notes at grievance meetings in as much detail as you can
Be ready to appeal against the initial grievance outcome – remember that employers dismiss most grievances
There are several advantages of participating in the grievance process instead of just resigning
These advantages are briefly summarised below and discussed further in our overview article on Grievances in the workplace
1. It gives your employer the opportunity to propose a settlement agreement
2. It allows you to put down in writing your own account of the way you have been mistreated
3. If you go to tribunal you could get additional compensation if the grievance procedure hasn’t been properly followed
4. It could help you to prove unfair dismissal if the grievance procedure wasn’t followed