Law guide: Workplace

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Grievance procedures

Grievance procedures

Grievance procedures

A grievance procedure lets you make complaints to, or raise problems with, your employer. There are steps you need to take if you have a complaint and things to consider when following a grievance procedure.

When to use a grievance procedure

Problems you might want to raise with your employer could involve:

  • Your terms of employment
  • Not getting your statutory employment rights
  • Pay and working conditions
  • Disagreements with co-workers
  • Discrimination
  • Harassment/Bullying
  • Victimisation

A grievance procedure is one of the ways to resolve a problem at work. You might try talking informally with your employer, line manager or other appropriate person before using the formal grievance procedure as most grievances can be resolved in this way. If your attempt to resolve your grievance informally is unsuccessful then you should make use of formal grievance procedures.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has a voluntary code of practice, which sets out the minimum requirements to achieve a fair grievance procedure. An Employment Tribunal can increase or decrease any award they make by up to 25%. This will depend on whether they find that either you or your employer has unreasonably failed to follow any provision of the Acas code of practice.

Your employer may have their own grievance procedure, which may include the steps suggested by Acas. You should follow this if you can. If they don't, you should follow the steps set out below.

You shouldn't be dismissed for raising a genuine grievance about one of your statutory employment rights (e.g. about discrimination or about querying whether you have got the right wages). Neither should you suffer disadvantage (for example, not be promoted or lose overtime) for raising a genuine grievance about the rights you have under your employment contract.

A written statement

Set out your grievance in writing. In this letter you should stick to the facts and never use abusive language. Your employer's grievance procedure should say who to send your letter to. If that's the person causing the problem, or if they've ignored previous complaints, send it to the HR department or to the person's boss. You must do this without any avoidable delay.

A meeting

Your grievance should be looked into in a fair and unbiased way. Your employer should invite you to a meeting (sometimes called a hearing) to discuss the problem. This should be done soon after getting your letter. Attend the meeting if you can. If there is someone else involved, they might also be there (but you should tell your employer if you are uncomfortable with this).

The meeting should be at a convenient time for you and anyone else involved. If you think you've not had enough time to prepare, ask for more time. If your employer doesn't agree (and they don't have to), you should go to the hearing, but make sure that your lack of preparation time is noted.

Gather your thoughts before the meeting. Don't be afraid to write down what it is you want to say. There is nothing wrong with reading from your notes at the meeting. At the meeting you should be allowed to explain your grievance and to suggest how you think that it is to be resolved. If there is a need for the person conducting the meeting to find out more about the facts regarding your grievance, the meeting should be adjourned for this purpose.

It is up to your employer what format the meeting takes, but they will normally go through the issues that have been raised and give you the opportunity to comment. The main purpose of the meeting should be to try to establish the facts and find a way to resolve the problem.

Right to take a companion

You have a legal right to take a 'companion' to the meeting with you if your complaint is about a breach of a duty owed to you by your employer. This duty might be imposed from a term contained in the terms and conditions of your employment contract, or it might be a duty owed to you under employment legislation.

Some of the duties that your employer owes to you under legislation include amongst other things:

  • To provide you with employment particulars within two months of the start of your employment
  • To provide you with an itemised pay statement
  • To pay you the minimum wage
  • Not to make unauthorised deductions from your pay
  • Not to expect you to make payments to them
  • To allow you to take a paid holiday
  • To allow you to join a trade union
  • To ensure that you are not discriminated against, harassed or victimised in the workplace

Legislation also places special duties on your employer which covers what is known as 'protected acts' and which makes it unlawful for your employer to subject you to a detriment, for example:

  • Because you were part of a whistleblowing process (whistleblowing is when you give information about illegal and underhand practices usually to the authorities)
  • Because you took time off for jury service
  • Because you took time off to act as companion to a worker who is facing a disciplinary or grievance procedure
  • Because of trade union related reasons
  • Because you claimed rights under the minimum wage

You must, however, ask your employer if you want to make use of this right. Although you need not do this in writing, it is advisable to do so as it gives you proof of having made the request especially should it be refused. Unless your employer allows you to take someone else of your choice, this companion must be one of the following:

  • A fellow worker
  • A workplace trade union representative who is certified by the union as being competent to accompany you to the meeting
  • An employed official of a trade union

However, even where you do not have a legal right to this, an employer would probably allow you to take a companion if you request that, as it could be seen as unfair if it is not allowed. If no colleague is willing to accompany you, you can ask a trade union official even if you are not a member of the trade union. If none of these options are suitable to you, you could ask your employer if you can bring a family member or a Citizen's Advice Bureau worker (but your employer does not have to agree to this). The companion can present and/or sum up your case, talk on your behalf and confer with you during the hearing. They're protected from unfair dismissal or other mistreatment for supporting you.

The meeting must be at a convenient time for your companion. You can ask for a postponement of up to five days, if necessary, to get your chosen companion there. You must take care that your chosen companion will not interfere with or adversely affect the meeting in any way. It would also be unreasonable if they are from a remote location and a willing suitable alternative person is locally available

Written confirmation of meeting

You should be given notes of the meeting and copies of any information given by other people. Unless they need to investigate further, your employer should tell you reasonably quickly what's been decided, and about your right to appeal if you're not satisfied. You might be told of the outcome verbally at first, but it should be confirmed in writing.

An appeal meeting

If you're not satisfied with the decision, or you think the procedure followed was seriously flawed, you have the right to an appeal. This is usually heard by a higher level of management, but if this isn't possible, your employer could ask an Acas mediator or another independent person to hear it. To make use of your right to appeal, you must, without unreasonable delay, write a letter to your employer or the appropriate manager stating your grounds of appeal.

The appeal hearing is similar to the original meeting. Where your initial grievance concerned a breach by your employer of a duty owed to you, you will have a legal right to take a companion to the grievance appeal meeting. To make use of this right, you must make a reasonable request. Although you need not do this in writing, it is advisable to do so as it gives you proof of having made the request, especially should it be refused. Even where you do not have a legal right to take a companion to a grievance appeal meeting, you may still request this if you do wish to be accompanied. Employers might allow this with a view to achieving a fair process.

Your employer should give you enough time to appeal. If they don't, make your appeal anyway, and say that you'll provide more information later.

If you are considering taking your issue to an Employment Tribunal, you may want to appeal even if it seems pointless, because a tribunal award could be reduced if you don't.

If you can't sort out the dispute, and your employer agrees to it, you can get help through mediation, conciliation or arbitration.

If the appeal is unsuccessful

If you remain dissatisfied after the appeal, you may approach an Employment Tribunal, county court or the High Court, or (in Scotland) the sheriff court or the Court of Session. At this point, it would be advisable to seek legal advice before taking any further steps.

Acas runs a scheme called 'Early Conciliation'. This is a free service designed to resolve workplace disputes. If you have a problem with your employer that you can't resolve and are considering lodging a claim at an Employment Tribunal, Acas must first offer this service.

For more details see the section 'Before making a claim' under Employment Tribunals. You can also see the Acas website for more information.

Note that there are time limits for bringing your claim before the Employment Tribunal; otherwise they may refuse to hear your case. If you intend to resign on the grounds of constructive dismissal, you must do so within a reasonable time (but we recommend that you get legal advice first); otherwise the contract might be seen as having been confirmed by you.

Your claim for unfair dismissal must be received by an Employment Tribunal within three months of the effective date of termination of your employment, but time will be 'frozen' for the duration of Acas's Early Conciliation scheme.

This 3-month period cannot be extended by using a grievance procedure. For purposes of taking your grievance further, it is advisable to keep records of the whole process. Your employer should give you copies of the meeting records they hold.

These records should include:

  • The nature of the grievance
  • Copy of meeting records
  • What was decided and actions taken
  • The reason for the actions
  • Whether an appeal was lodged
  • The outcome of the appeal
  • Any subsequent developments

Where to get help

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues.

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