Handling grievances

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Keeping up to speed within changes in employment law is a seemingly never ending challenge.  During the next 12 months we are likely to see new legislation providing enhanced rights for agency workers together with the much anticipated Equality Bill. In March, employers with more than 250 employees will have to get to grips with the employees having a statutory right to request time off to train.   

I will start with practical advice to help you deal with grievances. Conflict in the work place, be it dissatisfaction over bonuses, appeals over an employer’s decision to refuse holiday requests or misbehaviour at the office party, can arise at any time and employers need to be prepared to deal with grievances raised by their staff. Failure to handle complaints properly can see minor issues escalate, resulting in significant loss of management time and considerable legal costs. 

A grievance is any concern, problem or complaint that an employee raises with their employer. So, what do you do if an employee raises a grievance with you either formally or informally?

Ideally, if you are aware that a problem exists don’t wait for a formal grievance to be raised, be pro-active and try to mediate informally before things escalate to the formal stage. If you are not sure whether the employee wants to invoke the formal procedure ask them how they want to proceed.

Grievance procedures commonly require employees to put their complaints in writing to their line manager in order to initiate the formal grievance process. Since April this year, employees are no longer prevented from bringing an employment tribunal complaint if they haven’t previously raised their grievance formally.

The guidelines

Here are some guidelines for dealing with grievances:

  • When an employee raises a formal grievance, do not ignore the issue and delay dealing with it. An employer has a duty to deal with a grievance in a timely manner: failure to do so could give rise to legal liability.
  • Invite the employee to a formal meeting to explain their grievance and how they want it resolved. Employees should be given the opportunity to fully explain their complaint. If you need further clarification on any point raised go back and ask.
  • Remember that the purpose of the grievance procedure is to enable issues to be resolved in the workplace. Be clear about the outcome that the employee is seeking. For example, do they want a specific management decision to be overturned or do they just want an apology?
  • In some cases it will then be necessary to adjourn the meeting to conduct an investigation, including interviewing witnesses, in order to establish the facts of what the employee is complaining about and reach a decision.
  • Depending upon the complexity of the matter it may take some time for the grievance investigation to be completed. Make sure you keep the employee informed of the likely timescale and any changes to it.
  • In serious cases where the employee is very distressed, consider if it is appropriate to send them home (on full pay) for a short while.
  • After the investigation is complete and the meeting has concluded, communicate your decision clearly and promptly in writing setting out the reasons for your decision and giving details of any actions you intend to take to resolve the grievance.
  • Many grievances arise out of management decisions with which the employee disagrees. It is therefore important that the employee fully understands why such decisions have been made.
  • Don’t forget to let the employee know that they have a right of appeal. If the employee does so the appeal meeting should be conducted by a more senior manager who has not previously been involved with the matter.
  • Employees should be given the opportunity to bring a work colleague or trade union representative to any meetings held under the formal grievance procedure.
  • And finally … make sure you keep a written record of the actions you have taken in respect of the grievance, including notes of conversations and meetings.


Should you do wish Stuart to examine a particular legal topic or have questions for him, please contact IER editor Anna Ryland at aryland@datateam.co.uk and she will pass them to Stuart.

You can find out more about the services of Shoosmiths, by contacting Stuart Lawrenson at stuart.lawrenson@shoosmiths.co.uk.

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