Skip to main content

Employer’s guide to grievance procedures

Written by: Kash Dosanjh
Published on: 30 Mar 2023

Image: © Vitalii Vodolazskyi / Adobe Stock

Image: © Vitalii Vodolazskyi / Adobe Stock

A workplace grievance can be anything from a concern or issue to a formal complaint about the employer, an individual or a group of individuals within the organisation.

Thankfully, most are resolved informally. However, where this is not possible, an employee may choose to raise a formal grievance to their employer to resolve the situation.

First principles

All employees have a right to raise a grievance at any point during their employment; no minimum level of service is required.

Employers have no explicit obligation to investigate grievances raised by workers or employees who have already left their employment. However, to avoid possible costly and time-consuming employment tribunal claims, and to help defend the employer in any potential employment tribunal claims, the majority of employers choose to investigate these grievances.

The grievance process

Before commencing any grievance procedure, employers should be familiar with the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures, which provides practical guidance for employers on correctly and fairly dealing with a grievance.

While compliance with the code is not mandatory, employers should demonstrate observance – if a matter progresses to an employment tribunal, the tribunal will consider whether both the employer and the employee complied with the code.

It is important to note that if an employee wins their case at an employment tribunal and the employer has failed to comply with the code, the compensation awarded to the employee can be increased by up to 25 per cent.

But, as well as the Acas code, employers should review their internal grievance procedure, which should be outlined in a documented grievance policy that is accessible to employees at all times.

Grievance policies

Each company’s grievance policy will vary. However, as a minimum, it should include a point of contact for grievances to be submitted; timescales of when the grievance will be heard (usually within five working days); timescales of when the grievance outcome will be issued (not always possible, but is good practice to include); a point of contact for an appeal of the outcome; and timescales of when the grievance appeal shall be heard (again, not always possible, but is best practice to include).

To start with, an employee should raise the formal grievance in writing, via a document known as a letter of grievance, without unreasonable delay after the incident in line with their employer’s grievance procedure requirements. These differ between employers, but tend to follow a similar process.

In essence, employees should put their concerns in writing to their line manager – or, if the complaint is about their line manager, to a member of the HR department.

The written grievance should describe the nature of the complaint (including any relevant facts, dates and names or individuals), and the employee’s desired outcome. It should also include copies of any relevant documents or supporting evidence.

The grievance letter should provide as much factual evidence as possible to set out the nature of the issue, to ensure it can be investigated as fully, accurately and promptly as possible.

It is important to note that not all employees will label their letter as a letter of grievance. Employers should, therefore, analyse the contents of the letter and make a judgement as to whether the contents of the letter constitute a formal grievance.

HR grievance investigation process

Once an employer has received a grievance letter, it should acknowledge receipt to the employee as soon as possible. And once a grievance has been raised, the employer will need to determine who investigates the complaints detailed in the grievance, and who will chair a grievance hearing with the employee.

The investigation process generally involves gathering all relevant information on the issues the employee has raised in their grievance. However, if the grievance relates to the behaviours of another employee then the investigation will also involve interviewing other employees who may have seen or heard the incidents complained of, as well as undertaking an investigation meeting with the person the employee has complained about. Fundamentally, the grievance chair must be impartial. Therefore, anyone named in the grievance should not be in the chair. The same applies to anyone close to the employee; for example, their line manager. The grievance chairperson should also be someone of sufficient authority to deal with the matter.

Action plan

The grievance chairperson must ensure they undertake a thorough and detailed investigation to reach an informed outcome at the end of the grievance procedure.

As to the process, this may involve reviewing the letter of grievance; checking relevant policies and procedures; identifying potential sources of evidence; identifying possible people relevant to the investigation; deciding how and when to collect the evidence; and deciding when and where the grievance hearing should take place.

How the hearing is heard, the decision is made and the appeals process should be run will be covered in part two of this series.

In summary

Employment law is a minefield for both employee and employer. With the removal of tribunal fees in 2017, employees have no financial bar to making a claim – even if it is unwarranted. The best advice is to set up the correct procedures, follow them scrupulously and seek good advice when needed.