The Employee Grievance Procedure

Here is an overview of the grievance procedure within the United Kingdom. There may be some minor implementation differences between employers but the basic principles apply to all.

If you’re an employee, you may also be interested in our article on handling conflict with your manager.

Distressed employee considering a grievanceIt all starts with some incident. An employee feels unhappy or distressed because of some event. The employee may feel the need to complain if that event is serious enough or if it keeps happening.

Try to resolve the matter informally

It is easier to resolve an issue informally where possible. The employee should talk to their manager to discuss the situation and try to agree a resolution. This might not always be possible. For example, if the complaint is about their immediate manager, it might be uncomfortable bringing the topic up directly. Alternatively, the employee might feel that the issue is so serious that it needs raising more formally.

When to raise a grievance

If informal discussion is not possible, or if it cannot resolve the matter, the employee can raise a formal grievance. If an employee wants to raise a grievance, they should do so as soon as possible. Because any grievance needs investigation, any excessive delay in raising the grievance will only make that investigation harder. We have had cases where part of the employee complaint refers to issues that occurred two years ago. Not only that, but the manager involved had long since left the company. Even if the complaint was valid, it was far too late to do anything about it!

There are also time limits for taking a claim to an Employment Tribunal. For most complaints, the employee has three months less one day to file a claim with the Tribunal. For redundancy and equal pay cases, the time limit is six months less one day. This deadline is from the date the act complained about occurred and is strictly enforced. However, the Tribunal can exercise discretion in some cases.

How to raise a grievance

First, the employee should check the employer’s grievance policy. Always submit a grievance in writing. It can be a letter or simply an email. This is important because it provides the first part of a documented “audit trail” for the formal process. A grievance letter should contain the following information:

  • Exactly what the complaint is about. Be as clear and detailed about the issue as possible.
  • A timeline of events. What happened and when.
  • Copies of any supporting evidence. This can include emails, text messages, instant messages; anything that supports the narrative of the complaint.
  • The names of any witnesses who can support the complaint.
  • What resolution is sought, i.e. what would satisfy the complaint.

The employee should send this letter or email to their HR representative. If there is no available HR representative, then it should go to a manager who is unrelated to the complaint. That manager can then escalate it to the appropriate authority.

Once a grievance has been raised

If there is an HR professional within the business, they should take control of the grievance. Here’s what should happen next…

The first thing the employer should do is acknowledge receipt of the grievance. Don’t ignore it or delay dealing with it. People are already feeling negative if they are complaining and delays will only make things worse.

Read the grievance letter through carefully. Hopefully, if the letter follows the format described above, it should be clear what the problem is. The complaint will need investigation to ensure that the matter is thoroughly and fairly evaluated.

The grievance investigation

The investigation must be fair and impartial. The employer should appoint someone independent from the complaint and any of the persons involved to carry out the investigation. The employer can use someone from within the management staff, if anyone with the appropriate experience is available. Alternatively, we can do this for you.

The investigation process starts by meeting with the employee concerned. This meeting is for talking through all the details of the complaint based on the original letter. If the employee should raise any additional issues that are not in the letter at this meeting.

The employee can be accompanied to the meeting by a companion. The companion can be a colleague, union representative or even a friend. However, the companion is not there to represent the employee or speak for them, simply to provide support.

After the meeting, the investigator should gather and review any relevant evidence. They should arrange additional meetings with any other persons named in the grievance. This should include anyone who is a subject of the complaint.

The grievance outcome

Once a review of all the evidence and any interviews are complete, the investigator writes up an outcome document. This document would typically take the form of a letter back to the employee on behalf of the employer. It will explain what findings the investigator made and what decision they came to. This letter must say whether the complaint was upheld or not. Many grievances contain multiple issues and if so, there should be a recorded decision on each issue.

The outcome should be comprehensive and include a detailed explanation. This helps the employee understand the decision and they can see that the investigation was thorough. The outcome letter should also explain that the employee has the right to appeal the decision. We recommend a deadline of five working days for any appeal and that the employee must submit the appeal in writing.

Appealing a grievance outcome

The employee has the right to appeal the outcome of a grievance. However, there must be reasonable grounds for the appeal. These would typically be one or more of:

  1. The evidence does not support the decision
  2. Any proposed action is inappropriate or unreasonable
  3. There is new evidence that was not available during the original investigation
  4. The grievance process was not properly followed and this affected the outcome

The employee may struggle to accept anything but a positive outcome. However, simply not liking the outcome is not sufficient grounds for an appeal.

The employer handles the appeal in the same way as the original grievance with someone appointed to hear and investigate the appeal. This should not be the same person that investigated the grievance. It is important that the appeal process is as impartial and comprehensive as for the original grievance. Once the appeal investigation is complete, the appeal investigator delivers an outcome.

The appeal outcome letter should clearly explain the decision. In addition, it should also specify whether any further appeals are possible. The employer can choose to allow additional appeals or declare the outcome of the appeal as the end of the formal grievance process.

If the employee is still unsatisfied

Sometimes an employee may still feel that they have a valid complaint. If they have not been successful with their grievance and appeal, they may want to take their complaint further.

Before going to an Employment Tribunal, the employee must first contact with ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). There is an “early conciliation” process where ACAS works with the employer and employee to try and resolve the dispute. This is preferable to going to an Employment Tribunal.

Early conciliation “stops the clock” while it is underway. This extends the deadline for bringing a complaint to the Tribunal to account for time spent in conciliation. If the conciliation fails, ACAS will provide the employee with a certificate (the EC certificate). The employee can then submit an ET1 form with the EC certificate number to take their claim to an Employment Tribunal.

Employment Tribunals

Whatever the merits of the case, the Employment Tribunal will expect to see that your grievance process was correct. The Tribunal could add up to 25% to any sum awarded to an employee if you failed to follow the ACAS guidelines. It is vital, therefore, that you ensure your procedures are complaint. You can read more about our process and our approach or simply contact us for advice.
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