What should an employer do when a grievance is received

A grievance can be raised if an employee has any concerns, problems or complaints relating to the workplace. It can relate to any aspect of working life from working conditions, concerns regarding discrimination or harassment, employment contract terms, salary, pay or any other issues.

The ACAS Code of Practice sets out standard of fairness and reasonable behaviour to follow when dealing with a dispute. It states that in order to raise a grievance an employee must:

  • raise this formally,
  • without reasonable delay,
  • with a manager who is not subject of the grievance. 

This should be done in writing and should set out the nature of the grievance. Some letters of grievance may give suggestions that the employee has for resolving the problem. The employer should keep an open mind to the content of a grievance and respond appropriately so that the situation does not escalate.

Grievance policy requirements

All employers should have a grievance procedure set out in writing and it should be shared with all staff such as on the company intranet or on the HR manual.

It should include information about:

  • the method to set out the details of the grievance in writing;
  • who to send the letter to;
  • who to send the letter to if the normal contact person is involved in the grievance;
  • the meeting with the employer to discuss the issue;
  • the appeal process against the employer’s decision; and
  • the length of time each stage should take. 

It is important that an employee has access to this information. It is a further consideration that with any grievance policy that, as much as possible, the most senior management is not used in the first meeting, to allow for any appeal process to be heard.

What to do once a grievance is received
Dealing with a grievance without delay

The employer should not delay unreasonably in holding a meeting once the grievance has been received or they will be in breach of the ACAS Code. It is important to note that a grievance does not stop the clock on any claims being brought about by the employee in the Employment Tribunal.

Give proper consideration to the grievance

If a grievance is promptly dismissed, it may be argued that the employer has breached a legal duty to deal with the employee’s grievances. Therefore grievances can be used as a tactic by an employee to settle their claim early. It is important that an employer follows the ACAS procedure to avoid a claim against them.

Other considerations to be made by the employer

Firstly, consider whether the grievance raises issues under other policies such as whistleblowing or bribery and whether any of these policies provide a more appropriate procedure. Secondly, consideration must be made whether the grievance raises issues that could result in disciplinary action against another employee or employees. Finally, consideration should be taken whether the employee has a disability and whether reasonable adjustments may need to be made to prevent any disadvantage caused to them.

In summary, managing a grievance process is challenging for any employer and how the grievance process is approached will very much dictate the outcome. A grievance is often raised when the relationship is already strained, so an employer must give consideration to the principle of fairness. It is best to avoid an antagonistic approach and to keep an open mind, so that the situation does not escalate further.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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