Grievance At Work: Top Tips

Disgruntled? Sidelined? Furious? Most workers will experience these feelings at some point in their careers. Bringing a grievance claim can be the solution, and, in most cases issues can be resolved before they become too formal. Read the Workingmums tips on dealing with a grievance at work.

Mental Health


What constitutes a grievance?

Grievances are concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise with their employers. Workers may feel disgruntled about any number of things to do with their employment. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) says that these contentious issues often include matters of terms and conditions of employment, health and safety, work relations, bullying and harassment, new working practices, the working environment, organisational change and discrimination. Mike Emmott, public policy adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development says that in his experience grievances often occur as a result of the annual appraisal. “Employees may feel that they should be getting a pay rise for example,” he says.

What does the law say?

The Employment Act 2008 which came into force in April 2009 repealed the Statutory Dispute Resolution Procedures – these had stipulated a three-step process in relation to grievance, and bringing in the implementation of the new ACAS Code of Practice.

Employees should be aware that the code is not legally binding. Failure to comply with it will not render a dismissal as automatically unfair but it can have implications for any resulting awards made later. Tribunals can lawfully adjust any compensatory awards made in these cases by up to 25% for unreasonable failure to comply with any provision of the code.  But beware that if an employment tribunal feels that an employee has unreasonably failed to follow the guidance set out in the code they can reduce any award they have made by up to 25%.

Emmott says that in reality the repeal has done little to change the way employers behave. “The code is less coercive and it’s more about principles than deadlines,’’ he says ‘’There is more encouragement to use mediation where possible.”

Approaching a grievance:

So how do employees go about turning their pent-up anxiety and frustration into a grievance case? Acas advises employees to initially try to resolve the problem informally before embarking on a written grievance.

“Ideally, matters should be addressed before they even get to the stage of becoming disciplinary or grievance issues,” says Acas.

Emmott says: “If you’re an employee, go to your employer first of all and explain that you don’t want to go down the formal grievance route but discuss why you are unhappy and look for suggestions on how to improve your situation. Employees that are antagonistic or ‘bolshi’ and who don’t understand that life is a compromise will end up going down the formal route.”

Emmott accepts that in some cases, particularly in larger organisations, the layers of management and hierarchy mean that often grievance is the only course of action.  “These rules were designed for employees in large organisations really,’’ he says ‘’Take, for example, a worker in the motor manufacturing business. They would need to deal with shop stewards etc and may never even meet their line manager. This code of practice helps them.”

Getting it in writing:

Despite best efforts it may not always be possible to resolve a grievance informally and where an employee hits a brick wall and wants to continue with their complaint they are advised by the code to raise the matter formally. This means setting out the nature of their grievance in writing.

The code suggests that employees should ‘stick to the facts and avoid language which may be considered insulting or abusive’.  Employees should also read their organisation’s grievance procedure which should set out who to approach should the grievance be a complaint against the line manager.

Holding a grievance meeting:

It is at this stage that an employee will be notified, without unreasonable delay, of the date and location of a grievance meeting.

Employees should remember that a grievance meeting is not the same as a disciplinary hearing. The code suggests that it is instead an “occasion when discussion and dialogue may lead to an amicable solution.”

At the meeting, employees will be allowed to explain their grievance and suggest ways that they believe it can be resolved. If matters come to light during the meeting which require investigation, consideration should be given to the meeting being delayed.

Emmott advises employees to err towards compromise. “Don’t dig in and don’t go for the money or your day in court,’ he advises. ‘’If you see that the employer will give an inch then think about what you can compromise on.”

Right to be accompanied:

For many employees a grievance hearing is a nerve-wracking experience and having a friendly face to accompany you can be very supportive.

There is a statutory right for the employee to be accompanied at such a meeting. There are, however, rules as to who can accompany an employee. A colleague, a trade union representative or an official employed by a trade union fall under those who are permitted.  The companion can do more than just listen and be supportive. They should be allowed to address the hearing to put and sum up the worker’s case, respond on behalf of the worker to any views expressed at the meeting and confer with the worker during the hearing. The code says, however, that: “The companion does not have the right to answer questions on the worker’s behalf, address the hearing if the worker does not wish it or prevent the employer from explaining their case.”

Using mediation:

Mediation can be used at any point in the process and Acas say it may be particularly useful in certain circumstances where, for example, there is a conflict involving colleagues of a similar job or grade, or between a line manager and their staff.

Mediation is a voluntary process where an independent and impartial third party helps two or more people in a dispute to try to reach an agreement.

In some organisations, mediation is written into formal discipline and grievance procedures as an optional stage. Where this is not the case, it is useful to be clear about whether the discipline and grievance procedure can be suspended if mediation is deemed to be an appropriate method of resolving the dispute.

Outcome of the grievance meeting:

The outcome of the meeting together with any agreed action should be presented in writing. The employee may appeal and should be informed of this right. Employees may also be accompanied at an appeal hearing. Following any appeal the outcome once again should be communicated in writing.

It is worth noting that the provisions of the code do not apply to grievances raised on behalf of two or more employees by a representative of a recognised trade union or another workplace representative. These grievances should be handled in accordance with the organisation’s collective grievance process.

Good luck!

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