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Grievances in the workplace

Grievances in the workplace

Employees have a right to raise concerns, problems, complaints or disputes in the workplace about their employer, colleague or a third party. Such matters would normally be pursued by raising a “grievance” and could, for example, relate to:

  • a job role;
  • terms and conditions of employment;
  • treatment at work eg bullying;
  • discrimination at work eg race, sex, disability or age;
  • health and safety;
  • a legal obligation owed by the employer; or
  • organisational change.

The Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures (Code), which was issued under section 199 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, provides guidance on grievances. A failure to follow the Code does not, in itself, make an employer liable to proceedings. However, employment tribunals will take the Code into account when considering relevant cases and can increase or reduce awards by up to 25 per cent for unreasonable failure to comply with any provision of the Code.

Employers are obliged to have in place a procedure for dealing with staff grievances. The procedure should be fair and transparent and be set out in writing. If there is no grievance procedure, then the employer should adopt the procedure prescribed in the Code.

How should a grievance be presented?

Grievances should ideally be in writing and provide as much detail as possible of the issue(s), setting out a chronology of events with dates, times and witnesses (if applicable) so that the employer can investigate it properly. The letter should include details of what steps, if any, the employee has already taken to try to resolve the problem already.

The letter does not have to say what resolution the employee is seeking though it is often helpful to include this. It is a good idea for the letter to say that the employee looks forward to receiving the date of a grievance meeting as soon as possible. This will show the employer that the employee understands the process and it should prevent the employer from seeking to either stall or avoid resolving the grievance.

If the grievance relates to certain specific matters such as unlawful discrimination, health and safety or breach of a legal obligation, or if it amounts to whistleblowing, it may be wise for the employer to seek legal advice before responding to the grievance. This is because there are special statutory obligations that an employer owes an employee who raises these types of grievances. An employee may also qualify for certain statutory protections as a result of raising such a grievance.

What next?

The key to dealing with grievances is to raise them and then deal with them as quickly as possible, initially informally and if this does not resolve the issue, then formally adopting a structured process.

The employer should hold a meeting with the employee to clarify any issues that may be unclear and to ensure it has all the necessary details to investigate the grievance.

Employees have a statutory right to request to be accompanied at the grievance meeting under section 10 of the Employment Relations Act 1999. The companion can be:

  • a work colleague employed by the employer; or
  • a full-time official employed by a trade union; or
  • a lay official, so long as they have been certified in writing by their union as having experience of, or as having received training in, acting as a worker’s companion at disciplinary or grievance meetings.

An employee’s chosen companion has the right to explain and sum up an employee’s case, and to respond to any views expressed at a meeting. S/he may not answer questions on an employee’s behalf. If an employee’s companion cannot attend on the date the employer has set for the meeting, the employer is obliged to postpone the meeting to an alternative date. The employer should allow work colleague to take time off during working hours for the purpose of accompanying the employee to a grievance meeting.

Once the grievance meeting has been concluded, the employer should investigate the grievance in order to reach a reasoned decision. The decision should then be confirmed in writing to the employee. If the employee is not content with the decision, s/he may appeal against the decision in writing. Ideally the appeal letter should provide reasons why the employee is unhappy with the outcome of the grievance. The employer should appoint an appropriate person to deal with the appeal. The appointed person then holds an appeal meeting with the employee and subsequently, having carried such further investigation as is necessary, provides the appeal decision in writing. This would normally be the end of the grievance process.

In some instances, it may not be possible for an employer fairly or effectively to deal with a grievance internally – for example, if the grievance is against the owner of the business – and may need to use an independent third party to help resolve the problem. This could be a qualified workplace mediator.

Contact IBB’s workplace mediation and dispute resolution experts today

Our employment law experts provide advice on the employment aspects of all major business decisions including redundancies, tribunal claims, TUPE, contracts and policies, and international legal management services. For advice, please call our experienced lawyers on 03456 381381 or email your details to employment@ibblaw.co.uk.