A stressed employee
Blog • 20.11.19

Managing employee grievances

Kate L
HR Consultant

Get expert HR advice

As an employer, it’s always difficult when an employee raises a grievance. It’s hard to hear that a member of the team isn’t happy at your company, especially in a small business, where staff can be more tight-knit.

The main way to prevent grievances is to try and promote an inclusive, positive company culture with room for flexibility. However, it’s always best to prepare for the possibility of an employee raising a complaint, and to know how to deal with it quickly and thoroughly.

Grievances should always be taken seriously, regardless of your personal opinion on the issue, and actions should be taken to try and ensure a similar grievance won’t be raised again.

What is a grievance?

A workplace grievance is a complaint raised by an employee about any aspect of their employment – from the amount of time off in lieu they can have to something a colleague said to them at the office Christmas party.

Types of grievances in the workplace

Because grievances can be about anything related to work, there’s no exhaustive list of what they cover. However, the types of grievance can be loosely grouped into the following categories:

It’s a good idea to cover the potential types of grievance in your grievance policy.

Grievance policy

For small businesses especially, it’s essential that you implement a Grievance Policy which lays out the process from first receiving a complaint to the issue being (hopefully) resolved. It should set out the steps of the grievance process and set time limits for each so that employees know what to expect.

The Employment Rights Act 1996 requires employers to state in their terms and conditions of employment who employees should approach with a grievance, and how they can get in contact.

It’s a good idea to use your policy to advise employees to submit grievances by letter or email, in order to create a written record that can be referred to later if needed. You should also assure employees that any grievances will be treated confidentially.

Before commencing any grievance process an employer needs to be familiar with the principles of fairness set out in the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures and the supporting guide, Discipline and Grievances at Work.

Grievance process

Failure to follow a fair grievance process can come back to bite you as an employer. If the grievance can’t be resolved and the employee later brings a claim at the employment tribunal, the amount of compensation you pay an employee can be raised by up to 25% if you’re found not to have followed the ACAS Code of Practice on grievances.

The 5 steps of the grievance process are:

  1. Informal resolution
  2. Investigation
  3. Grievance meeting
  4. Communicate the decision
  5. Appeal and further action

1. Informal resolution

Once a grievance has been put forward by a member of staff, you’ll be expected to respond to it within a ‘reasonable’ period of time. Be sure not to let the grievance affect how you treat the employee, as discrimination will reflect badly on you in a tribunal.

Unless the nature of the grievance is serious, such as harassment or discrimination, you should try to resolve it informally first. Invite the employee for a chat to talk through the issue and try and find a solution that both parties are happy with.

If it can be resolved properly without the need for a formal procedure, it will save time and reassure the employee that you’re proactive about handling grievances. However, if the issue can’t be solved informally, or the employee wishes to pursue a more formal process, you’ll have to start a formal grievance procedure and invite the individual to a grievance meeting.

Note: If you receive a grievance while the employee is in the middle of a disciplinary procedure, you’ll need to choose whether to continue with the disciplinary or start the grievance process. This is a tricky decision, so be sure to consult a HR professional if you find yourself in this situation.

2. Grievance meeting

Send a letter to the employee to invite them to the grievance meeting and advise them of their right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative. The letter should give reasonable notice of the meeting – at least a couple of days before.

You’ll need to record what is said in the meeting, any suggestions that are made and agreed or not agreed upon. It’s helpful to have a separate note-taker present, so that you can focus on the conversation with the employee.

Try to put the individual at ease by offering them a drink and asking how they’re doing. Explain why the meeting is being held, and if the employee isn’t being accompanied, ask if they received the letter explaining their right to bring someone.

Ask the individual to talk you through their grievance, giving examples if possible. After you’ve listened to what they have to say, you get to ask the most important question: ‘How would you like to see this resolved?’

The final thing to do is to explain that you’ll need some time to investigate further and come up with a solution that works for both parties. Give them an idea of when you’ll get back to them, which should be within a week.

3. Investigation

You may need to carry out an investigation based on what you heard during the grievance meeting – for example, consulting the employee handbook to refresh your memory on certain policies.

If the grievance involves another member of staff, either as a witness or a person involved, then you’ll need to get their side of the story too. Be sure to give them notice that you’ll be interviewing them, and create a record of what they say.

After the investigation, you’ll need to arrange another meeting with the employee who raised the grievance in order to feed back what you’ve found out.

4. Communicate the decision

When you’ve decided how to handle the grievance, you should communicate it in writing to your employee. Outline the actions you are planning to take, and where appropriate, make an apology. You’ll then need to make sure you carry out those actions as soon as possible.

You can decide on the outcome without having a grievance meeting if:

  • you rearrange the meeting to accommodate the employee, but they fail to attend; or
  • the employee is on long-term sick leave and unable to attend (in this case they can submit their comments in writing).

5. Appeal and further action

The employee then has the chance to appeal if they don’t agree with the decision you’ve made. If possible, a different person should hear the appeal than was at the grievance meeting, but this may not be possible within a small business. If it does end up being the same person, then they need to be as objective as possible.

The appeal meeting should take the same format as the grievance meeting, with the employee laying out their side and you going away and deciding whether to uphold your original decision or come up with a different solution.

In the case of the grievance still not being resolved, the individual will have to decide whether they want to take it further, for example by going to an employment tribunal. If this happens, you’ll be in a much better position if you’ve followed the above procedure, but it’s always best practice to seek professional advice.

The content of this blog is for general information only. Please don’t rely on it as legal or other professional advice as that is not what we intend. You can find more detail on this in our Terms of Website Use. If you require professional advice, please get in touch.

Get HR Support

If you have a member of staff who has filed a grievance and you’d like some advice on which steps to take next, our HR consultants can help.

Contact us today

Contact us today

Mature businessman smiling while being among his colleagues