A grievance procedure is a process that allows employees to raise a complaint with their employer. There are some steps that employees should take if they are facing a problem or want to make a complaint about their employer as well as things that they much consider in following grievance procedures.
When should you use a grievance procedure?
Problems can arise in many areas for employees, and you may wish to raise issues with your employers. Such issues could be related to:
- your employment terms and conditions
- not having statutory rights in your employment
- your working conditions
- your pay
- disagreements with colleagues
- bullying or harassment
These issues can begin to be resolved by a grievance procedure. However, before jumping straight to the formalities, there should be some steps you take first.
Firstly, it is essential that you try to resolve matters with your employer in the correct way. For some, that might mean following a grievance procedure straight away. For most, you should try to begin discussions with your line manager or employer informally, to start with.
You can resolve many problems this way, and it is often quicker and easier. However, if this is not possible or unsuccessful, a formal grievance procedure is the next step.
Acas (The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) has a code of practice that organisations can follow voluntarily, establishing how to conduct grievance procedures fairly. Employers are not required to follow this code of practice, but they should have their appropriate grievance procedures.
Of course, it is crucial that you understand that your employer cannot legally dismiss you or disadvantage you (such as no promotion opportunities) if you raise a genuine grievance about your statutory employment rights (for example, whether your wages are correct, or if it is regarding discrimination).
You may be wondering if you need legal advice before submitting a grievance. If the grievance is a straightforward one, most employees can manage this alone. But, if it is a little more complicated and claims discrimination or suffering due to whistleblowing, obtaining legal advice is a good idea. In these situations, you need your grievance to be assertive without missing any important aspects that prove an employer has not followed employment laws.
Put it in Writing
It would be best if you put your grievance in writing in a formal letter. It is essential to write this formally and sticking solely to the facts in an as concise and clear way as possible, refraining from any inappropriate language or anything that puts you in a bad light.
The employer’s grievance policy will say to whom you should address your letter. If this is inappropriate, for example, if this is who your grievance is against, or if they have not responded to a previous letter, you should send your letter to your Human Resources department. It is vital to get your grievance in writing as soon as possible after the problem has occurred.
There are templates for how you can best write a letter when raising a grievance with an employer. However, to sum it up briefly, your formal letter should include several elements.
The introducing paragraphs of a letter should address the background of the situation. For example, it should offer information such as your role and how long you have been employed in the organisation in question.
Next, you should set out the background to your grievance in a succinct way. This should include events in the lead up to your complaint so that the letter’s addressee understands the context of the complaint. You should also give details of the informal steps that you may have taken.
Remember that you must keep your letter factual so that your employer can investigate it thoroughly. For different aspects to your complaint, you should address these separately under different headings. For complex complaints with many details, a timeline of events may be useful. Keep this as simple as you can, perhaps using bullet points.
You should write as if you explain your role and the situation to someone who does not know what your job entails. This is important as you may encounter people further down the line that are not in your line of work, such as in an Employment Tribunal, or if you seek legal advice. Do not forget that you can expand your points verbally in the meeting that will follow. Try to keep your letter concise and clear. You can attach documents to support your claim and refer to them in the letter’s main body.
In your final part of the letter, you should briefly summarise how the situation has affected you personally. You should also suggest any resolutions or outcomes that you are seeking. This can include an apology, disciplinary action, training for any staff that have fallen short in their role, or legal fee refunds.
Once your letter is received, your employer will request a meeting with you. This can also be called a ‘hearing’. You should expect this to be scheduled soon after they receive your letter. It would be best if you were comfortable at the meeting and therefore it should be convenient for you in terms of time, and whoever else is requested to attend. You can also ask for it to be delayed if necessary if you would like more time to prepare for it.
Before the meeting, make some notes about what you want to discuss. You can bring them to the meeting and read from them if this makes you feel more at ease. It would help if you were allowed to express your issues at the meeting and to make some suggestions as to a resolution.
The meeting can be adjourned if things need to be investigated further before a resolution. This meeting’s purpose is a fact-finding one primarily, but solutions can be agreed upon at this stage if appropriate.
Recording the Meeting
You are not allowed to record any meetings without express consent from all parties, including the employer. Most employers would not agree to permit a recording. However, you can take detailed notes at the meeting. If you did record the session without consent, this could go against you in any subsequent Employment Tribunals that may arise if there is no resolution.
Bringing a Companion
Legally, you can bring a companion with you to the meeting if your issue is regarding a duty breach by your employer. Such duties that an employer must owe you legally include:
- providing detailed pay statements
- providing terms and conditions of employment within two months of starting
- paying the National Minimum Wage
- permitting you to join a union
- giving you the required paid holidays
- not making unauthorised pay deductions
- protecting you from workplace harassment, victimisation, or discrimination
There are also specific duties that an employer must protect against and, as such, they cannot have detrimental effects on you as their employee. These include detriment due to:
- jury service
- time off to support a companion in a grievance or disciplinary procedure
- for trade union reasons
- due to claimed National Minimum Wage rights
If your grievance is due to any of the above circumstances, you are allowed to bring in a companion to the meeting. However, it would help if you informed your employer that you wish to do this. It does not need to be in writing, but it is wise to formalise it if you are refused permission.
Your companion cannot be anybody. They must be a trade union representative in your workplace, a trade union official (even if you are not a union member), or a fellow worker.
Even if you do not legally have the right to a companion in your given situation, most employers will allow this if you request it. Your companion can support you, speak on your behalf, as well as confer with you in the meeting.
Written Meeting Minutes
After the meeting, you should receive copies of notes or minutes made in the discussion and any of the session’s information. Unless an employer needs to carry out any investigations, you should find out quickly as to any decisions or resolutions that are to be made, as well as any appeal rights if appropriate. You may be given a verbal outcome first, but a written confirmation should follow.
A Meeting for Appeal
If you are not happy with any decisions made or resolutions offered after your meeting, or if you do not think your employer has followed the correct procedures, you have the right to appeal. Usually, this appeal is heard by senior managers at the next level, but this is dependent on the size of the organisation. If this is not possible, then Acas can become involved as mediators. If you wish to appeal, you should let your employer know in writing as soon as possible.
An appeal meeting is not overly different from the first meeting. Again, you have the same rights to a companion, as mentioned above. If you are thinking of pursuing your complaint at an Employment Tribunal, you should appeal your case even if you feel it is futile at this stage. A tribunal will want to see that you have pursued everything correctly yourself first.
An Unsuccessful Appeal
If your appeal is not successful, you can approach your complaint via an Employment Tribunal. This is the point where legal advice is likely necessary before continuing further. Acas is here to help in these situations too. It runs an ‘Early Conciliation’ scheme, which is free and aims to resolve disputes in the workplace. If you are considering an Employment Tribunal, Acas offers this service in the first instance.
If you require further support regarding grievance procedures, Acas is a free and confidential service. You can contact them for impartial advice no matter the issue.
It would be best if you also read your employer’s grievance procedures. If they do not have one, Acas’s Code on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures may be useful to you. Additionally, Citizens’ Advice can also provide support for many issues regarding employment law and grievance procedures.
If you have any queries about any grievances or putting in place a grievance, our employment solicitors pride themselves on tailoring their services to your individual needs and aim to make the process as painless as possible.
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