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What is a grievance?

A grievance is essentially a concern or complaint raised by a member of staff. 

Grievances can cover a wide range of issues, including concerns in relation to the nature of an employee’s work, the people they work with or their working conditions.


Try dealing with things informally first

If an employee tells you that they have an issue it’s always best to try to resolve this informally first before resorting to a formal process.  Encouraging an open culture where staff are confident to raise any concerns will help.  If staff feel their concerns will be listened to and appropriate action taken they are less likely to feel the need to take matters down a formal route.

However, if an employee has tried to resolve things informally but is still not happy they have the right to raise a formal grievance.


What does the law say?

All companies need to have a formal written grievance procedure which sets out how the process will work.  Whilst you don’t actually have to record who will be involved in the process, it’s a good idea to give this some thought when you draw up your procedure, particularly in small companies where the options are more limited.

Employees may raise a formal grievance as a step before they make an Employment Tribunal claim. In these circumstances, failing to follow a fair process, as set out in the ACAS Code of Practice, will leave you liable for up to a 25% increase in any compensation awarded by the court.

Handling issues in a fair and swift way will allow you to deal with matters effectively and avoid long drawn out processes, which will cost the company both in terms of time and resources.


How to conduct an effective Grievance process

Obtaining the facts

The employee raising the grievance needs to put their concerns in writing, providing as much detail as possible.
Inviting the employee to a grievance hearing

Write to the employee and invite them to attend a grievance hearing. Explain that they have the right to bring either a colleague or Trade Union rep as a representative.  You can always allow them to bring someone else as a rep but that’s at your discretion.
Holding the grievance hearing

Hold the meeting somewhere appropriate where you can be certain of no interruptions and where you can talk in confidence.  It may be better to do this away from the workplace if there isn’t anywhere suitable on site.  Have someone present who can take notes and who will ensure that the matter is treated confidentially.

Ask the aggrieved employee to explain their concerns in detail and clarify any questions or queries that you may have.  Explain that you will need to investigate their concerns and give an indication of time scales.  This will depend on the complexity of the situation and the resources that you have.

During the meeting their representative can ask questions and seek clarification etc, but the employee must answer questions themselves that are directly put to them.

Remain calm and objective and don’t allow the individual to become aggressive or abusive in the meeting.  Ensure you control the hearing and adjourn if necessary for the employee to recompose themselves.

Ask the employee how they would like the matter resolved.  They may be looking for a change to a particular working practice, an apology from another employee or just an acknowledgement that their concerns have been heard.
Investigating the grievance

Undertake your investigations into the matters raised.  This may involve interviewing others as necessary to try to establish the facts.  It’s important to reinforce the need for confidentiality as staff must understand that it’s not ok to discuss the issues more widely as this will make matters worse and could land you in an Employment Tribunal.
Confirming the grievance outcome

Write to the employee confirming the outcome of your investigations and whether you uphold their grievance.  It doesn’t have to be a straight yes or no as it may be that you have upheld some points of their complaint but not others.

Give reasons for your decision and what evidence you have relied on to reach your conclusions.

Advise them that they have a right of appeal. 

The timescale for giving your outcome should be set out in your grievance procedure.  Make sure this is reasonable as well as realistic.  e.g. within 2 weeks from the date of the hearing.
Taking further action

If the grievance has highlighted any wider issues or concerns then it’s important to act swiftly. E.g. do your policies need adjusting or is there a wider issue with a particular practice or with an individual member of staff? It’s important to take appropriate action as it is no use upholding a grievance if nothing then changes.
Right to appeal a grievance outcome

Any appeal must be submitted by the employee in writing. Your procedure should set out the timescale for an appeal to be received e.g. 5 days from receipt of the grievance outcome letter.  The appeal letter must set out the grounds of the appeal.

Arrange for the appeal to be heard by someone neutral who has not been involved in the original hearing and is preferably in a more senior role.  This can be difficult in small organisations so if the same person does have to hear the appeal they need to be as impartial as possible and listen afresh to any new points or evidence presented.

At the appeal you need to explore any new evidence. 

After the meeting you need to review the points raised and then deliver the outcome by letter.  The decision can be to either uphold the previous decision or overturn it and deliver a new outcome.

The letter also needs to confirm that this is the final appeal and that there is no further right of appeal.


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