Solidarity has prepared this Q&A guide to help explain what a grievance procedure is and how it works.
Please note that while we offer this guide, you should always contact the Union for advice and representation before submitting a grievance or attending a meeting.
What are grievance procedures for?
A grievance procedure is one way to resolve an issue at work. It allows you to raise a problem with your employer or make a complaint to them. Examples of issues which you may wish to raise with your employer include:
- Violation of your terms of employment
- Violation of your statutory employment rights
- Violation of your pay and working conditions
- Disagreements with co-workers
- Harassment or bullying
A grievance procedure can allow an issue to be resolved without recourse to an employment tribunal.
You may first of all decide to informally raise the issue with your employer, line manager or another appropriate person. If this fails to resolve the issue, then a formal grievance procedure would be the next step.
Why should I consider using a grievance procedure?
Grievance procedures provide a formal, organised process for employees to raise issues with their employers. This process ensures that your rights as an employee are protected, and provides a set of clear steps to resolve your issue.
You should not be dismissed or suffer disadvantage in the workplace for raising a genuine grievance about your statutory employment rights or rights you have under your employment contract.
Requirements to receive a fair grievance procedure are set on in a code of practice set out by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). An employment tribunal can raise or lower the award they make by up to 25% if they judge that either you or your employer has unreasonably failed to follow any provision of the Acas code of practice.
Can I use a grievance procedure?
A grievance procedure is a common method used to resolve a wide variety of workplace issues.
There are only a limited number of quite specific issues for which a grievance procedure cannot be used. These are listed below:
If you have ceased to be employed, and, since your employment ended it is no longer reasonably practicable for you to send the statement of grievance.
If your grievance is about an actual or contemplated dismissal (other than constructive dismissal).
If your grievance is about ‘relevant disciplinary action’ that the employer has taken or is contemplating unless one of the reasons for the grievance is:
a. relevant disciplinary action is action short of dismissal that the employer asserts to be based wholly or mainly on the employees conduct or capability, other than suspension on full pay or the issuing of warnings. Where relevant disciplinary action occurs the standard DDP applies.
b. However where the employee is dissastified with the relevant disciplinary action taken or contemplated, the GP will apply in addition to the DDP if the reason for the employee’s grievance is one of the two following reasons:
(i) The disciplinary action taken or being contemplated by the employer amounted to or would amount to unlawful discrimination
(ii) The ground on which the employer took or is contemplating taking the disciplinary action is unrelated to the ground on which he asserted that he took or is asserting that the is contemplating that action
So long as the issue you want to raise does not fall within the above categories, a grievance procedure would provide an ideal framework for you to resolve your issue with your employer.
How do grievance procedures work?
There are two stages which are involved in all grievance procedures. The first is for you to submit a written statement of grievance to your employer. The second is for a meeting between you and your employer to attempt to the resolve the issue. If you are unhappy with the outcome of that meeting, an additional appeal stage may be involved.
We outline further detail on the two initial stages below:
1. Written Statement of Grievance
As the employee, you must set out your grievance in writing and send a copy to your employer. We recommend that you use registered or recorded delivery mail and advise against using internal mail systems.
You should stick to facts which are relevant to your grievance, and never use abusive language. You may announce your resignation in the grievance letter (a principle established in the case Shergold v Fieldway Medical Centre), however if you resign with immediate effect then the letter may not constitute a statement of grievance.
Your employer's grievance procedure should say who to send your letter to. If this turns out to be the person concerned in your grievance, or if they have ignored your previous complaints, then you may send the letter to their boss or to the HR department instead.
2. The Meeting
After you have submitted a written statement of grievance, your employer must invite you to attend a meeting (sometimes called a hearing) to discuss the grievance. They should do this soon after receiving your letter. The meeting should be at a convenient time for you and anyone else involved. You can ask for more time to prepare if you think you need it. Your employer doesn’t have to agree to this, but if they don’t you should make sure your lack of preparation time is noted. You must take all reasonable steps to attend this meeting.
This meeting must not take place unless you have informed the employer of your grievance in a written statement of grievance, and your employer has had reasonable opportunity to consider their response to the grievance.
At the meeting, your grievance should be considered in a fair and unbiased way. Other parties involved in the grievance may also be invited to attend by your employer – you should tell your employer if you are uncomfortable with this.
You have a legal right to bring a ‘companion’ along with you to the meeting. For more information see further below in the section Can I take anybody with me to the meeting?
You should make sure you are well prepared for the meeting. You are allowed to bring notes to help you remember what you want to say. You should be allowed to explain your grievance and suggest how you think it could be resolved.
After the meeting, your employer must inform you of their decision in response to the grievance. They must also notify you of your right to appeal if you are dissatisfied with their decision, and provide you with notes detailing what took place during the meeting. They should also confirm the outcome of the meeting in writing, although they may inform you verbally at first.
Can I take somebody with me to the meeting?
You have a legal right to take a 'companion' with you to the meeting, although you must inform your employer beforehand if you wish to do this.
You can request to take anybody with you to the meeting as your companion, including a family member or a Citizen’s Advice Bureau worker. Your employer must always accept any of the following as your companion:
- A fellow worker
- A workplace trade union representative who is certified by the union as being competent to accompany you to the meeting
- An employed official of a trade union (even if you are not a member of that union)
Your companion can present your case for you, speak on your behalf and confer with you during the meeting. Your employer must arrange the meeting to be at a convenient time for your companion, and you can postpone the meeting for up to five days to ensure this. It may however be deemed unreasonable if your chosen companion is from a distant or remote location when a suitable alternative is more easily available.
Can I appeal the decision?
You always have the right to appeal your employer’s decision regarding your grievance. To make use of this right, you must inform your employer by writing a letter to them stating the grounds for your appeal, and do so without unreasonable delay.
Your employer should however give you enough time to make an appeal; if they don’t, you should make your appeal anyway and offer to provide further information later. If you are considering escalating the issue to an employment tribunal, you should consider making an appeal first even if it seems pointless, as your tribunal award may be reduced if you don’t.
Once you have submitted the appeal, an appeal hearing would be arranged which your employer must make all reasonable steps to attend. The appeal hearing is similar to the original meeting, but is usually heard by a higher level of management, an Acas mediator or another independent person. You can bring a companion with you to the appeal hearing just like at the original meeting. You should also inform your employer if you intend to do this, even if the companion attended the original meeting.
After the appeal hearing, your employer must inform you of their final decision regarding your grievance, and whether or not your appeal has been successful.
What if my appeal fails?
If you are unhappy with the decision made following your appeal, there are still a number of options available to you. You should consider seeking legal advice before deciding what you do.
You may choose to take the matter to an employment tribunal, a county court, the High Court, or (in Scotland) a sheriff court or the Court of Session.
Alternatively, you could try the Early Conciliation scheme run by Acas, which is a free service designed to resolve workplace disputes. Acas are obliged to offer you this service if you are considering lodging a claim at an employment tribunal. You can find out more information about this on their website.
If you choose to take the matter to an employment tribunal, there are time limits that you should be aware of which will apply to certain types of grievance. You must ensure they receive a claim for unfair dismissal within three months of the effective date of termination of your employment, although if you opt to use the Acas Early Conciliation scheme before going to an employment tribunal, the three month deadline will be frozen for the duration of the Early Conciliation scheme. In cases where you intend to resign on the grounds of constructive dismissal, you must do so within a reasonable time; otherwise the contract might be seen as having been confirmed by you.
Also, in cases where a submission is made to the employment tribunal without first undertaking a grievance procedure, there is an automatic extension of three months to comply with the grievance procedure and resubmit the claim. There is also a three month extension to make a submission to an employment tribunal in cases where the claimant has complied with the outcome of their grievance procedure.
If your case goes to an employment tribunal, they may increase or decrease your award by up to 25%. Their decision will depend on if they rule that you or your employer have failed to follow the provisions of the procedure undertaken prior to taking your case to the employment tribunal.
Whether you choose to use the Early Conciliation scheme or escalate your grievance to a court or employment tribunal, you should ensure you keep notes of the entire process so far. Your employer should give you copies of the meeting records which they hold.
These records should include:
- The nature of the grievance
- Copy of meeting records
- What was decided and actions taken
- The reason for the actions
- Whether an appeal was lodged
- The outcome of the appeal
- Any subsequent developments
It should be noted that there are three scenarios in which you cannot take your grievance to an employment tribunal. These are if you have:
- Failed to send a statement of grievance to the employer before bringing a tribunal claim
- Sent the statement of grievance but not waited 28 days after doing so before bringing the tribunal claim
- Not sent the statement of grievance until one month or more after the expiry of the original time limit for bringing the tribunal claim in question
It should be noted that while it is useful for you to have this information, most grievance procedures are resolved without having to go to an employment tribunal or a court. We also emphasise the fact that we have provided this guide to help you learn more about the process, you should always contact the Union for advice and representation before submitting a grievance or attending a meeting. We provide assistance for our members and we have a special scheme to help those who are not existing members of our Union.
We introduced the special scheme because we were getting so many desperate phone calls from people unfairly treated at work who were not members of our or any Union. Under our scheme if a worker in trouble joins Solidarity they will can get quality advice but also, for the payment of a modest fee, physical representation. Ring Graham Williamson on 07970 455445 and we can start to help.