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Employee Grievances

What is a grievance?

A grievance is a complaint or concern that an employee raises with their employer about something to do with work.

What is a grievance procedure?

A grievance procedure should set out the way in which an employer will deal with an employee’s grievance. All employers should have a written grievance procedure in place which employees can access easily, for example, in a Staff Handbook. If an employer doesn’t have a written procedure, they should always follow a document called the ACAS Code.

Does a grievance have to be dealt with formally?

In most cases, an employee will be encouraged to try and resolve their grievance informally first, e.g. perhaps by speaking to their line manager or HR. However, even if an employee raises an issue informally, the employer should still treat the grievance seriously.

How should an employer respond to an informal grievance?

Where an employer has a written grievance procedure, it should follow the process set out in that procedure for dealing with informal grievances. However, an informal process will usually require the employer to meet with the employee to informally discuss how they can resolve the issue.

When would an employee raise a formal grievance?

An employee is likely to raise a formal grievance if:

  • They haven’t been able to resolve their grievance informally;
  • They’d rather go straight to a formal procedure; or
  • The matter is too serious to be dealt with informally – e.g. if it involves discrimination, harassment or bullying.

How should an employer respond to a formal grievance?

When an individual raises a grievance, it’s important that the employer follows its own written grievance procedure for dealing with that grievance. If the employer doesn’t have a written procedure, it should follow a document called the ACAS Code.

Can a failure to deal with a grievance properly lead to an Employment Tribunal claim?

If an employer fails to follow their formal grievance procedures in dealing with a grievance, it could have a significant impact on the employee’s trust and confidence in the employer. This could lead to the employee resigning and claiming constructive unfair dismissal to an Employment Tribunal. In addition, an employer’s failure to follow their grievance procedures can also be taken into account by an Employment Tribunal in deciding how much compensation to award an employee following a successful claim. For example, a failure to follow an employer’s grievance procedure can increase an employee’s compensation by up to 25% (as per the ACAS code of practice).

When does a grievance amount to whistleblowing?

When grievances raised by employees refer to complaints about health and safety hazards or workplace conditions, they could potentially amount to whistleblowing. Always check your whistleblowing policy (probably in your company handbook) and take advice first.

How should an employer start the formal process?

The first step in any employee grievance is for the employer to arrange a grievance hearing with the employee who raised the grievance (sometimes this is called a grievance meeting). This hearing should ideally take place not too long after the grievance has been raised and the employee should be given enough time to prepare for the hearing. This hearing is an opportunity for the employee to discuss their grievance in more detail and to show any evidence they have to support their grievance.

Can the employee be accompanied at the hearing?

Yes, the employee has the right to bring a colleague or trade union representative with them to a grievance hearing. In exceptional circumstances, e.g. if an employee has a disability, it may be best for an employer to allow the employee to bring additional support with them – a family member or carer.

Who should conduct the hearing?

The person conducting the hearing shouldn’t be involved in the complaints being raised within the grievance, i.e. they should be independent of the actual grievance. Ideally, they should also have some experience of handling employee grievances or investigations.

What happens after the grievance hearing?

After the grievance hearing, there may be a need to conduct further investigations before any final decisions are made. During this investigation, all relevant witnesses should be spoken to and all relevant evidence gathered.

What happens after the investigation?

After the investigation, a report or outcome letter should be prepared explaining the findings, and this should be shared with the employee who raised the grievance. Some of the possible findings could be:

  • That the grievance is rejected;
  • That it’s upheld; or
  • That it’s partially upheld and partially rejected.

What else might follow the grievance? A disciplinary procedure?

It could be that the outcome recommends that mediation is held between two individuals or that training is offered to someone. In some cases, it might be decided that disciplinary action (as per the relevant disciplinary procedure) needs to be taken against someone. It’s important therefore that a business or organisation makes sure that its disciplinary and grievance procedures are aligned.

What support should be offered to an employee during a grievance?

Raising a workplace grievance, or being the subject of a grievance in the workplace, can be stressful for an employee. It’s important for a business or organisation to remember that they have a duty of care to look after the health and safety of all employees. Often, communicating updates to employees or offering support such as counselling will be a good way of satisfying this duty.

Does a written record need to be kept ?

Yes, it’s important to keep a written record of everything that happens during the employee grievance process. In particular, a written record should be kept of the grievance hearing, the investigation and of any decisions taken and why. This will be useful in future if any queries are raised about the grievance or if a similar grievance in the workplace is raised in future and there is a need to show consistency.

Does an employee have the right to appeal the grievance outcome?

Yes. Usually, an appeal should be presented on set grounds – e.g. the employee grievance process was unfair or new evidence has come to light. Someone who wasn’t involved in the grievance hearing should then conduct the appeal hearing (ideally someone more senior than heard the grievance).

If you need any advice on employee grievances, please contact a member of our employment law team in confidence here or on 02920 829 100 for a free initial call to see how they can help.

To speak to one of our experts today, please contact us on 02920 829 100 or by using our Contact Us form for a free initial chat to see how we can help.

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