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Grievance Procedures in the UK

Your working environment consists of individuals from different backgrounds, with unique life experiences. Because of this, conflicts around the workplace are unavoidable.

However, you can avoid an employment tribunal claim if you have a formal procedure in place to deal with a workplace grievance.

If you’re experiencing issues with employee conduct and need immediate advice, you can contact the Croner advice team. Call us now on 0145 585 8132 for expert support from the initial claim, to the grievance investigation, and final appeal hearing.

Read on for a breakdown of a typical employer’s grievance procedure…

What is a grievance procedure?

Grievances can arise in many situations. Mishandling them can lead to costly unfair dismissal or constructive dismissal claims. That’s why a grievance procedure is useful. This is a formal process which sets out the steps for managing a complaint.

Although raising a grievance at work isn’t something anyone looks forward to, you must handle it with care and consistency when it happens.

Acas standards

As soon as an employee makes a formal complaint, you should follow the process you have in place. This formal procedure should fall in line with the Acas disciplinary and grievance procedures.

If you are building your process from scratch, you must make sure they are in line with Acas. This means they must include information relating to:

  • How employees should set out the details of their grievance. This includes the problem, date of the letter, and suggested resolution
  • Who to send the grievance letter to (including an alternative if the complaint relates to the original contact)
  • The initial informal meeting with the manager (or other appropriate contacts) to discuss the issue
  • The initial formal meeting with the manager
  • The process for appealing decisions
  • The length of each stage of the grievance process

Once they are built, consider including them relevant documents such as:

  • A company handbook
  • An employment contract
  • Intranet platforms

Where does a grievance begin?

When an employee has a problem at work, the first step is usually an informal conversation with the parties involved to try to resolve the issue. Here, employers have a chance to address concerns before they escalate.

The formal grievance procedure begins when you receive notification of grievance from an employee. This could be verbal or via a grievance letter. If it’s a letter, it should detail the nature of their complaint, including details, such as:

  • Who it involves
  • When the incident occurred
  • Any relevant evidence

It’ll also include their suggestion for what they’d like you to do about it. As soon as the grievance is raised, you should begin following your employee grievance procedure. Here are we’ll detail the steps involved…

Informal grievance procedure

Employees can raise a grievance with their line manager or supervisor. However, in some instances, they might not feel comfortable enough to do so. Instead, they can approach another manager within the company or someone in the HR department.

Depending on the size of the business, an employee might want to speak directly with a senior manager. Although employers or senior managers may need to be involved in a grievance, it is best practice to address the issue within the team, or via HR, first.

When an employee raises a grievance informally, you’ll have an initial discussion with them. In this meeting, allow them to explain their concerns. Write down the key points and determine which step to take next. This first meeting is meant to gather information, not resolve the issue. If serious concerns are brought to light, such as discrimination or sexual harassment, you must begin a formal investigation.

If the issue raised is a minor disagreement or conflict, you can hold a further meeting or mediation to try and resolve the issue. Sometimes when the employer informally resolves an issue, all parties are satisfied. However, this isn’t always the case…

Where you’re unable to resolve the issue with an employee, you can then attempt to address it with a formal grievance. There are three main reasons an employee might escalate their complaint to a formal grievance.

This can happen if:

  1. They’re unhappy with the result of the informal grievance
  2. They’d prefer to deal with the matter formally
  3. It involves serious issues – violence, alleged bullying, or whistleblowing, for example

Formal grievance procedure

A grievance becomes formal when it is raised by an employee. This could be through a written grievance complaint from an employee.

Once an investigation into the allegation has been conducted, there are three main stages of the grievance procedure:

  1. The grievance hearing
  2. The employer’s decision
  3. The appeal

For a full understanding of the procedure, we’ll explore the stages in detail below.

Step 1: Grievance hearing

1.1: As soon as the grievance is raised you should ask for further detail on the grievance in writing and should begin scheduling a formal meeting to discuss it without delay.

1.2: Once the meeting has been held, begin a formal investigation and determine the facts of the allegation. Keep in mind any requests for anonymity.

1.3: Remind employees of their right to request a colleague (or trade union representative) accompany them to the grievance hearing. Remember, with the employee’s permission their companion can address the meeting and even ask questions relevant to the case. They can’t, however, answer questions on the employee’s behalf.

1.4: You can’t refuse a request for a companion, but you can limit accompaniment to a colleague or a trade union representative.

1.5: All relevant persons must endeavour to attend the grievance hearing. But, if an employee fails to attend the meeting without a valid reason or notice, it can proceed in their absence to avoid an unreasonable delay.

1.6: Encourage your staff to propose a resolution to their grievance.

1.7: Sometimes, you’ll need extra time to conduct a further investigation before deciding on the case. You may adjourn the meeting to a later date agreed upon by everyone in attendance. Most times, it’ll be as simple as listening to both sides of a story. However in other cases, a full investigation may need to take place. During the investigation you may need to collect witness statements in writing and conduct interviews.

Step 2: The decision

2.1: After the meeting and any consequent investigation(s), you’ll set out (in writing) the outcome of the grievance meeting.

2.2: When relevant, the outcome letter should also include any action required to resolve the issue in question.

2.3: Remind the employee involved of their right to appeal any decision made during the process

3.4: Remember, whatever the grievance outcome is, you must ensure that it’s fair and appropriate.

Step 3: The appeal

3.1: Your staff have the right to an appeal. The most common reason for an appeal of the outcome of a grievance meeting is because it doesn’t resolve the complaint. Or, because the employee feels that the process was unfair or they were unfairly treated.

3.2: If they do decide to appeal, they must state the grounds for doing so. A written appeal must be submitted to the relevant person within the organisation.

3.3: Specify a time limit for appealing the decision.

3.4: Once you revise the letter appealing the decision, arrange another meeting to discuss the appeal in a reasonable time. Remember to inform the employee well in advance of the time and place of the meeting.

3.5: This process should be impartial and if possible chaired by someone who wasn’t involved in the original hearing. For example, if the employer wasn’t present at the first hearing, they could represent the business here.

3.6: Just like the original meeting, the employee can invite a companion to accompany them to the appeal meeting.

3.8: After the meeting, remember to inform the employee of the outcome within a reasonable amount of time.

3.9: The employer’s decision will conclude the grievance process. The final decision cannot be appealed.

Other points to remember

  • Handle grievances in the strictest of confidence as much as is reasonably possible.
  • Store confidential records of all grievances under the legislation on data protection.
  • An employee can raise a grievance during the disciplinary process. If they do, you may suspend the disciplinary action to deal with the grievance.

Remember, it’s not a legal requirement to follow this code of practice when handling grievances. But, there are consequences of an employer not following the grievance procedure.

If your employee’s claim ends up at an employment tribunal, you may be liable to pay up to 25% more in compensation than you would have if you followed the Acas grievance policy.

Collective grievance procedures

Acas states that its provisions do not apply to grievances raised on behalf of two or more employees by a representative of a recognised trade union or other appropriate workplace representatives.

This means you should have your own collective grievance procedure under which to address these complaints.

Grievance procedure time limits

No. Unlike employment tribunal claims, there’s no statutory time limit when raising a grievance. This means an employee can raise grievances at any time.

While you can set grievance timescales within your company policy, it wouldn’t be advisable to do so. Your staff may see it as a way of preventing them from raising issues that concern them.

If an employee wants to claim an employment tribunal, they’ll need to do it within three months. In most circumstances, they’ll need to do it from when the issue they’re complaining about happened.

It’s worth noting, this time limit still applies even when the member of staff goes through your company’s grievance procedure first.

Expert support

No employer enjoys managing a grievance, but unfortunately it is part of the job. When a serious issue occurs, such as discrimination, employers must follow a formal process.

Having a strict procedure in place will help the process run smoothly, and reduce the risk of it escalating. However, getting the process right can be tricky. That’s where we come in…

We can offer you up-to-date advice on the Acas code of practice. We help guide the employer through the process of grievances. Call Croner today for immediate expert advice on 0800 141 3898.