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What is a grievance?

Any concern, problem or complaint raised by an employee is known as a grievance. There are a wide range of workplace issues that can result in grievances, including:

There will often be a specified procedure to raise and deal with grievances, laid out in the employer's handbook for employees. If not, it's advisable to follow the ACAS Code of Practice.

How does an employee raise a grievance?

Always check the employer's handbook and follow the grievance procedure it sets out. Additionally, you should ensure that you follow the ACAS Code of Practice, because an employment tribunal may take account of whether or not you did when they decide how much compensation you should get if any.

If your organisation doesn't have its own grievance procedure, first consider talking to your employer informally about the problem at work. If the issue concerns your line manager, speak to the HR manager or someone more senior.

How to prepare for an informal discussion?

Before you set up a meeting to discuss your issues, you may want to talk to friends, colleagues, or your union representative (if you are a union member). They may be able to tell you how a similar problem was dealt with.

Following these discussions, you should prepare for your meeting with your manager by making a list of:

  • everything that you want to say

  • what your employer has done that you're unhappy about (eg bullying/harassment)

  • evidence that you have of why you are unhappy (eg the date and time of the harassment, any conversations that you have had about it since the harassment started, and any emails/letters/text messages you can find that relate to the issue)

  • what your employer can do to resolve your issue (eg stop the harassment, provide further training on issues

During the meeting, you should go through the points that you have prepared. You should then give your manager a chance to explain why they are behaving in that way. You should keep a note of the meeting, including who attended and what the outcome was.

If after this meeting you are still not happy with your manager's behaviour, you can raise a formal grievance.

How to raise a formal grievance?

If an informal discussion fails to have the desired effect, you can then decide to raise a formal grievance in writing. Consider using the Grievance Letter provided by Rocket Lawyer for this purpose. Any grievance letter should contain details of the workplace issue you have been experiencing, including the time it started and should demonstrate any steps you have taken to deal with the problem, along with proposals for tackling your grievance. You can also specify who you would like to accompany you to the subsequent formal meeting.

Once you have raised a formal written grievance with your employer, it is now up to them to set up a meeting to discuss the problem. If they fail to do so, you can then consider taking legal action such as going to an Employment Tribunal. It's a good idea to Ask a lawyer how to proceed in this situation.

How should an employer deal with a grievance?

Always check your employer's handbook, if one exists, and follow any grievance procedure it sets out. Additionally, you should ensure that you follow the ACAS Code of Practice to avoid being penalised in case of an Employment Tribunal.

It's a good idea to tackle any workplace issues which come to light at the earliest opportunity, even before an employee has raised a grievance. If you can nip any problems in the bud, this will save a lot of time and money in the long run.

If you have received a formal written grievance, you should act immediately. The first thing to do is arrange a meeting, ideally within five working days. Remember that the employee is entitled to bring a companion to this meeting; this can be a colleague or trade union rep.

After the meeting, decide what action, if any, will be taken to tackle the grievance and communicate this decision to the employee without unreasonable delay. Set out the details in writing, along with the employee's right of appeal. For more information, read Appeals.

Grievances and data protection

Employees are 'data subjects', under the General Data Protection Regulation (the GDPR) and UK data protection laws. Employees have the right to make a subject access request to obtain details from their employer of any personal data relating to them that it is processing. This includes any data that the employer intends to process to deal with a grievance, for example, names, gender, age, sexual orientation or religion, especially if the grievance is related to discrimination or harassment.

For more information, read Data protection and employees.

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