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Grievance procedures are used by employers to look at certain complaints made by employees in as fair a way as is possible. It is important for employers to take grievances seriously and to follow the correct procedure. At Ironmonger Curtis Solicitors LLP our employment lawyers are experts in advising on grievance procedures.

Do you need an employment solicitor to help you with a grievance?

What is a grievance?

Grievances are defined in the Acas Code of Practice as “concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise with their employers.”

Grievances can be raised verbally or in writing. However, to be “formal” a grievance has to be in writing. As soon as an employer receives a formal grievance, there is a legal obligation on them to deal with it in a particular way, following a particular procedure.

Before dealing with a grievance it is wise to check out the Acas Code of Practice. Employers should also make sure they follow their own grievance procedures (usually found in company handbooks), which may well set out much more detail.

It is usually a good idea to try and resolve informal (i.e. verbal) grievances informally before embarking upon the formal process, assuming that the employee is happy with this. However, in some cases, it may be appropriate to go straight to the formal procedure, for example if the grievance is of a very serious nature, or if the employee has specifically requested that they wish for the complaint to be dealt with formally. In these circumstances, employers should ask the employee to set out their complaints in writing, in as much detail as possible.

It is very important to note that a grievance may not always “look like” a formal document. It does not have to be headed “grievance” for instance. Any complaint in writing made by an employee about the organisation (or anyone in it!) may be a grievance and should be treated as such. If an employer fails to spot a grievance, it could result in claims in the employment tribunals, such as claims for unfair dismissal, constructive unfair dismissal, discrimination or whistleblowing, and enhanced compensatory payments if those claims are successful.

Formal grievances: the procedure

The following is a summary of what is required from employers as a minimum by the ACAS Code of Practice. Remember, employers should also make sure they follow their own grievance procedures (usually found in company handbooks), which may well set out much more detail.

The basic procedure is as follows:

  • the employee raises a grievance
  • the employer investigates the grievance
  • the employer invites the employee to a formal grievance hearing
  • the formal grievance hearing takes place
  • the employer decides whether to uphold the grievance
  • the employer writes to the employee confirming the decision and offering a right of appeal

if the employee appeals…

  • the employer invites the employee to a formal grievance appeal hearing
  • the formal appeal hearing takes place
  • the employer decides whether to uphold the appeal
  • the employer writes to the employee to confirm the appeal decision
  • end of process

The employer investigates the grievance

An employer should not hold a formal grievance hearing until it has investigated the alleged grievance properly.

If the written grievance letter does not set out the employee’s complaints clearly or in enough detail, it is a good idea for the employer to arrange a meeting to ask the employee to explain their grievance in more detail. This is often referred to as an ‘Investigatory Meeting’.

It is often helpful to agree a ‘grievance summary’ at the outset, to make sure that the employer’s subsequent investigation into the allegations is thorough and comprehensive.

Once the employer is clear on the grievance allegations, they will need to investigate each allegation.

The aim of the investigation is to produce one set of documents which is copied to the employee and used at the grievance hearing itself.

If the case is very simple, there will only need to be a very basic investigation. For instance, if someone alleges that they were given a poor bonus on grounds of their religion, but the real reason was performance, the employer’s investigation should seek evidence which demonstrates the genuine criteria behind the decision to award a low bonus. Relevant evidence might include, for example, sales figures or appraisal scores.

If the case is more complex, however, the investigation may take some time. The employer may need to speak to witnesses, and collate a number of documents.

The employer must ensure that the employee receives the evidence before the hearing, giving the employee enough time to prepare.

It is a good idea for the employer to give the employee an opportunity to submit evidence as well. If the employee produces evidence, this should be included in the evidence pack to be used at the hearing.

The investigating officer

For some grievances, where there are contentious or complex issues, and if resources allow, it might be a good idea for the employer to appoint an imparital investigating officer – someone to do the investigation who is not going to be involved in making the final decision as to whether or not the grievance is upheld.

Obviously, if the matter is only a minor issue there is no need to appoint an investigating officer.

The employer invites the employee to a formal grievance hearing

After investigating, the employer will need to write to the employee to advise them of a formal hearing date. They should enclose a copy of all of the evidence to allow the employee to prepare for the hearing.

An employee has statutory right to bring a fellow worker or a trade union representative to a grievance meeting, and the employee should be advised of that right.

The formal grievance hearing

The hearing itself has three simple aims:

  • To ensure that a reasonable investigation into the facts has been undertaken and that there are no “gaps” in the investigation;
  • Based on that evidence, to make a reasonable decision as to whether the grievance is upheld; and
  • If the grievance is upheld, to decide on a reasonable action to take.

If the grievance has been dealt with previously; informally, for instance by a line manager, it is a good idea, if possible, for the formal hearing to be heard by a more senior manager than the manager who heard the informal grievance.

At the formal hearing the manager should listen carefully to the grievance and ask for clarification on any issues raised. The manager should ensure that he or she completely understands the basis for the grievance.

At the end of the hearing, the manager needs to make a decision as to whether the grievance is upheld or not. Most employers will not make a decision there and then, but will close the meeting to consider their decision before confirming it in writing, particularly where the issues are complex.

The decision & appeal

The employer should confirm their grievance decision in writing, and should inform the employee that they have a right of appeal. If the employee is not satisfied with the outcome, they should appeal in writing, specifying the grounds of their appeal. If they bring a tribunal claim without appealing, any compensation they are awarded may be reduced.

The appeal should be dealt with impartially at a hearing, which should (if possible) be conducted by a manager who has not been previously involved. The employee should be informed in advance of the time and place of the appeal hearing and may bring a companion. The employer should communicate the final decision in writing.

Why is it important to follow the Acas Code?

The Acas Code is intended to help employers and employees resolve grievances effectively in the workplace, without the need for tribunal litigation.

If an employee’s claim is successful but either the employer or the employee failed to follow the Acas Code, the level of compensation awarded to the employee may be affected:

  • If the employer unreasonably failed to follow the Code, the tribunal may increase the employee’s compensation by up to 25%.
  • If the employee unreasonably failed to follow it (e.g. by unreasonably failing to bring a grievance or refusing to participate in the procedure), the tribunal may reduce their compensation by up to 25%

If you are an employer with an employee who has raised a grievance or would like to make sure your grievance procedures are up-to-date and comprehensive, or if you are an employee who has a grievance against your employer, we can help you.

How can Ironmonger Curtis employment solicitors help you?
Call our employment lawyers on 0114 253 6559 for more information. We can advise you on the best way to handle grievances. Our employment solicitors are trained experts who have years of experience advising on grievances and other company procedures.


For business law advice call 0845 225 2635


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