Dealing With Grievances

Nobody said the world of work would be all plain sailing and at some point in your career you’re bound to face some conflicts. People break the rules and fall out with colleagues or bosses every day, but the important thing is how you deal with it.

You may not always see eye-to-eye with your employer, or you may be having disciplinary problems for breaking the rules, but whatever the situation there is usually a clear set of rules that must be followed to resolve the issue.

Staying calm and professional can be difficult in very testing circumstances but following the right legal procedures is vital to solving any workplace row.

What are Workplace Grievances?

Workplace grievances normally fall into two broad categories: either you have a Problem with your Employer, or they have one with you. Either way, there are correct procedures for addressing these types of problems.

What if Your Employer Has a Grievance?

If your employer has a grievance with you it could be for any number of reasons, although you will usually be aware that something has gone wrong. Almost all companies now have a published set of employment terms that set out the behaviour expected from employees.

This will provide details of all the various policies on things like acceptable email or Internet use, bullying, discipline and performance. If an employer thinks you have breeched any of these rules then you may be called to a disciplinary hearing or meeting.

This could be:

  • An informal meeting to discuss the grievance.
  • A hearing for misconduct. This is usually for less serious offences that warrant some kind of formal warning. Your firm will probably have a disciplinary code explaining the various punishments.
  • A hearing for gross misconduct. Some behaviour is identified as so serious that an employee could be sacked if guilty.

What if You Have a Grievance?

You may well be fed-up or angry about some perceived injustice, but to make a formal complaint you must have a genuine grievance as well as the evidence to back it up.

For minor complaints you should simply discuss the problem with your manager or supervisor but if it is about something more serious, then you have the right to request a formal hearing.

Serous problems that might warrant a grievance complaint include:

  • Unfair treatment. This could be a lack of access to training or being continually overlooked for promotion.
  • Serious problems with you terms and conditions of employment or job description.
  • Problems collecting your pay or with the agreed rate of pay.
  • A serious break down in your relationship with colleagues or managers.
  • Discrimination, Harassment or Bullying.
  • Health and safety issues.
  • Faulty or dangerous equipment

Since 2004 all companies have been required to follow a statutory minimum disciplinary, dismissal and grievance code. These procedures form a minimum standard that employers and staff must follow to resolve grievances.

You can find out more about the code from the government’s conciliation and mediation body Acas, who have drawn up a full code of practice.

Your employer will be penalised if they have ignored this statutory code or failed to provide you with a copy of their own grievance procedure.

Under the rules, the following process must be followed:

  • A written grievance must be submitted by either the employee or the employer.
  • A meeting of both parties to review the case.
  • An appeal if necessary.

There is a slightly different ‘modified grievance procedure’ if you have already left the company or if this has been requested in advance. Under these rules you will usually be informed of the final decision in writing.

How Should Grievances be Resolved?

Most employers will have a discipline and grievance policy written into their terms and conditions or employee handbook, which will explain what will happen in the event of problems arising.

Depending on the problem it may be that things can be settled through a private, informal meeting with your manager. However, if this is not the case you may be called into a disciplinary hearing.

If this is the case you should always find out what you are being accused of before the hearing, as under natural law you have the right to prepare a defence against any accusations.

You will usually be entitled to take someone into the meeting with you. This could be a trusted colleague, a trade union representative or an impartial member of staff.

Whatever the outcome you will generally have the right to appeal the decision and you may want to speak with a trade union official, legal adviser or employment law specialist.

If things are not resolved properly or you feel you have still been treated unfairly you can make a claim with an Employment Tribunal. You should seek legal advice before doing this.

You can find more information at:

ACAS the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service or On the Government’s website.

More on this site

Alternatively, read around the Safeworkers website to find features on specific issues like bullying, discrimination and working time.

Last Updated on 25 May 2021

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