Wherever people with different personalities and backgrounds work together everyday, grievances are almost certain to rear their troubled head.

A grievance is any employee problem, concern or complaint — and they’re practically inevitable at your organisation. Since you can’t avoid them, HR’s challenge is to resolve grievances without negatively affecting your workforce or ending up at a costly tribunal.

Your first step in achieving this is a good grievance procedure.

Grievance procedures


A clear grievance procedure makes sure everyone at your organisation is treated equally in similar circumstances, and that grievances are dealt with fairly and reasonably.

It’s essential that employees are informed about your grievance procedure. This is because case law has determined employers have an implied duty to “promptly afford a reasonable opportunity to its employees to obtain redress of any grievance.” Procedure is usually included in a company’s employee terms and conditions.

An effective grievance procedure can also help resolve issues in-house, preventing the need for external resolution or tribunal.

Your grievance procedure might cover:

  • Advice on how employees should approach grievances informally, through informal talks with their line manager
  • The formal course of action employees can take when a grievance can’t be resolved informally
  • Who employees should contact about grievances
  • Timescales to resolve grievances

Following the Acas Code on grievance best practice


When designing your grievance procedure — and carrying out grievance hearings — it’s essential to follow the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.

This handy code “sets out principles for handling grievance situations in the workplace.” But even more importantly, employment tribunal decisions will consider whether your organisation has followed the Acas Code.

If a tribunal decides against you and you’ve shown “unreasonable failure to comply” with the Code, the award you must pay can be increased by up to 25%.

Resolving grievances informally


Employees’ grievances can often be resolved quickly through informal talks with their line manager. This is likely the preferred approach, since it avoids time-consuming and costly formal procedures.

Your grievance procedure might encourage employees to discuss their problems and complaints with their line manager. By handling them informally first, grievances can be heard and resolved more quickly.

Formal grievance proceedings


Where informal talks fail, you can consider other types of dispute resolution before resorting to a formal process. Options include mediation and facilitated discussion.

Formal proceedings are ideally a last resort. Your procedure for handling grievances formally should:

  • Follow fair, structured proceedings in line with the Acas Code.
  • Set out how employees can raise grievances, and how grievances can be escalated to the next level of management when a resolution isn’t reached.
  • Include thorough and accurate record keeping. Should a grievance go to tribunal, records are your opportunity to show you have acted within the Acas Code.

Employees’ right to be accompanied


In formal grievance hearings, employees and workers have the statutory right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative. From March 2015, an amendment to the Acas code clarified that employees may choose any fellow worker or union rep they wish.