What to do when an employee makes a complaint.

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Friday, Feb 03, 2023

As a business owner, you may have to deal with employee complaints from time to time. In your opinion, it may not seem a big issue - but how you deal with these concerns is vitally important.

You must have a clear grievance procedure in place to make the process of dealing with employee concerns. Failure to do so could lead to an employee raising claims to an employment tribunal.

In this guide, we'll discuss what a grievance is, the procedure you must follow to deal with them, and how to avoid claims being raised against you.

What is a Workplace Grievance?

A workplace grievance is when an employee makes a formal or informal complaint to their employer or the company. You mustn't jump to a conclusion when this happens. An employee raising a concern doesn't mean they want to leave.

To fully understand and manage workplace grievances that may occur in your company, you need to understand what it means to raise one.

What Does it Mean to Raise a Grievance?

Raising a grievance is when the employee makes a complaint to their employer. A grievance can be made at any time and about anything. You should never judge or instantly dismiss an employee's concern just because you don't agree with it.

So, you must become familiar with the process and why an employee might choose to raise one.

Why Would an Employee Raise a Grievance?

There are many reasons why an employee may choose to raise either an informal or formal grievance. Such as things that go against the terms and conditions in their employment contract - for example not being paid.

Other examples include: * Working conditions. * Terms of employment. * Workplace rules. * Disagreements with other employees. * Allegations of unfair treatment.

How to Avoid a Grievance Being Raised

If one of your employees has a grievance at work, their complaint should be made to their line manager, team leader, or someone in HR.

At this point, you should hold a one-to-one meeting with the employee to discuss their complaint. The aim is to resolve the issue before further action is required.

Who Can Raise a Formal Grievance?

All your employees have the right to raise grievances to their employer. Even though you have no legal obligation to investigate every complaint, it's good practice to do so. This can save you both time and money in the future.

Advantages of an Employee Raising a Grievance

It may be a surprise that there are some advantages that come from employees raising grievances. So you must become familiar with them: * If a complaint is resolved quickly, it can strengthen the relationship between employer and employee. * A complaint may make you aware of an issue you previously had no idea about. * Complaints can help you create a better workplace culture and a better place to work moving forwards.

Can You Dismiss an Employee After Raising a Grievance?

No, you cannot dismiss an employee for raising a grievance about you or the company. You need to be careful, acting the wrong way to complaints may lead to employees resigning from their positions.

If you choose to end someone's employment because they made a complaint, they could make a claim of victimisation or unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal.

How Should an Employer Deal with Grievances?

As per the ACAS Code of Practice, you must acknowledge the grievance that's been raised. There is an implied term that states employers will give employees the opportunity to seek redress for any complaints or issues raised.

So following a grievance being raised, you should follow your procedure. This includes carrying out necessary investigations relating to the complaint.

How Should an Employee Raise a Formal Grievance?

If you've been unable to resolve an employee's complaint informally, they may choose to raise a formal grievance.

If you have an employee wanting to raise a formal grievance with you, you must point them to the procedure you have in place.

You must never try to pressure them into not raising a formal grievance with you.

What is the Formal Grievance Procedure?

The formal grievance procedure is the process that must be followed to find a fair and reasonable outcome to the complaint.

It's vital you follow a fair grievance procedure when dealing with employee grievances. Failure to do so can lead to claims being raised against you in the future.

An employer's grievance procedure will include the following eight steps: * Step One: Respond to the grievance. * Step Two: Hold a grievance hearing. * Step Three: Investigate the grievance. * Step Four: Determine the grievance outcome. * Step Five: Provide a grievance outcome letter. * Step Seven: Prepare for the appeal hearing. * Step Eight: Hold an appeal meeting.

Let's discuss the formal procedure in more detail:

Step One - Respond to the Grievance

If you have failed to resolve an employee's grievance informally, or if they're unhappy with your response - they may send you a grievance letter. This is the first step in the formal grievance procedure.

The grievance letter should include full details surrounding their complaint, with any evidence they have in support.

Following this, you must respond to the employee to confirm you have received it.

Your response should include the following: * Assurance that you'll be investigating their complaint or concern. * The next steps, including timelines.

Step Two - Grievance Hearing

The next step is to arrange a grievance hearing. This should be done in a reasonable time period following the issue being raised. You must provide the employee with copies of all relevant information regarding issue, including documents and statements.

The process for the hearing is as follows: * Introductions to people at the hearing, this includes the employee, the employer, and any witnesses. * The employee explains their grievance and how they want their complaint to be resolved. * The employee puts forward any evidence to support their grievance. They can refer to the written statement they previously made. * Witness statements and questioning witnesses. * The employer makes the employee aware of when they should expect a decision.

Any members of staff undertaking the hearing should have received full training on how to handle a grievance. This should be relative to the ACAS Code of Practice. This will help to decrease the legal risk, whilst also promoting strong employee relations.

If during the meeting it's obvious further investigation is needed, you should consider pausing the meeting to resume at a later date.

Can an employee be accompanied to the meeting?

Yes, under the Employment Relations Act 1996 employees have a legal right to bring someone to the grievance hearing. This includes both a colleague or a trade union official. You should make the employee aware of this before the hearing starts. However, they cannot be questioned by the employee at any time or answer questions on their behalf.

Do you need to provide the employee with minutes from the hearing?

Yes, accurate notes should be taken throughout the hearing. This is to ensure a record is kept if needed as evidence. It’s best to ask the employee to review, sign and date a copy at the end.

Request if they want a copy of the minutes for their records.

Step Three - Further Grievance Investigation

The third stage of the process is to conduct a fair investigation surrounding the complaint. Ensure the investigation is carried out by an employee not involved in the complaint. For larger companies, this may be a member of the HR team. For smaller ones, you may need an external professional.

Remember this is a fact-finding exercise, so keep a written record of any information you gather. This includes all communications with the employee and other witnesses. Once the investigation is complete, you should invite the employee to a grievance meeting.

Step Four - Grievance Outcome

The next stage of the process is to decide on a grievance outcome. Remember, the outcome you choose must be fair based on the investigation and hearing. However if you decide no action is required, then you must provide an explanation to the employee.

It's important you become familiar with possible grievance outcomes if the situation arises in your company.

What are common examples of grievance outcomes?

Depending on the type of grievance raised, the issue can be resolved quickly. For example issues about pay are sometimes down to an administrative error that can be dealt with via payroll.

Step Five - Grievance Outcome Letter

The fifth stage of the process is to make the employee aware of your decision and the outcome of the hearing in writing. This must be done even if you're choosing to take no further action.

Ensure you include the following in your outcome letter: * The outcome. * The reasons behind your decision. * The next steps (if applicable). * The appeals process.

Be aware that the outcome letter must only include facts regarding the grievance, that can be backed up by the evidence you have. This helps the employee understand the decision you took, even if they don't agree with it.

Step Six - The Appeals Process

If an employee doesn't agree with the employer's decision made at the hearing, they're entitled to appeal. You should make them aware of this in your outcome letter, including timeframes.

If they choose to appeal, they should write an appeal letter to you explaining why they disagree with the decision. This should be made without unreasonable delay by the employee and within the time limit.

Once you receive the letter, it’s best practice arrange a further meeting with the employee to discuss their appeal.

Step Seven - Prepare for the Appeal Meeting

The next step of the process is to prepare for the appeal meeting. It's important to prepare as thoroughly as you did for the initial hearing.

This includes: * Having all the correct information and records, especially if you have new evidence since the first meeting. * Plan for the meeting and make arrangements for someone to take notes throughout. * Giving the employee plenty of notice to gather any evidence. You should remind them they're allowed to bring a colleague or a trade union representative to the hearing. * Interviewing any witnesses or managers that are essential to the appeal (if it involves new evidence). * Avoiding delays in arranging and holding the meeting.

Step Eight - Hold the Appeal Meeting

The eighth step of the grievance process is to hold the appeal meeting. Generally, this is done the same way as the initial meeting.

The appeal hearing should focus on the reasons behind the appeal. Along with any new evidence that has come to light in preparation for it.

Be aware, a different senior manager or member of staff should deal with the appeal. They should not have been involved with the initial meeting.

Following the completion of the appeal hearing, you must make the employee aware of your decision without reasonable delay. This must be done in writing, with an explanation behind your decision.

Is the Grievance Decision Made at the Appeal Hearing Final?

Yes, the decision made at the grievance appeal hearing is the final decision. It's important you make the employee aware of this in writing. This makes up part of the formal grievance process so it's important you follow it correctly.

If the employee still doesn't agree with your decision, they may choose to take further action. So, you must prepare yourself for it.

How Long Does a Grievance Take?

There's no set time period for when a grievance procedure has to be completed. It's all very dependent on how complex the complaint is and how many of your employees are involved.

Why is it Important to Follow the Correct Grievance Procedures?

You must follow a full and fair procedure that's in line with the ACAS Code of Practice. The Code of Practice clearly explains the standards of reasonable behaviour that both employer and employee should follow in dispute resolution.

It's important you treat any complaints or issues raised by employees with the respect they deserve. Ensuring you follow the code and our own procedure will go a long way in avoiding claims being raised against you and issues being resolved.

Can Grievances Lead to an Employment Tribunal Claim?

Yes, grievances can lead to tribunal claims. If following the completion of the grievance process, your employee remains unhappy and chooses to resign from their post. Claims of constructive dismissals, as well as claims for other issues can be raised.

As well as this, if your employee feels you unreasonably failed to follow the expected process under the Code of Practice – they may be awarded furhther damages. The employment tribunal can increase any compensation awarded up to 25%.

Never Ignore Grievances

It's important you never ignore any grievances raised against you or your company. Although you may not always agree with them, you have a duty to ct. Ignoring grievances may lead to a lack of confidence in you by your employees. You should always show you are willing to change and improve your business.

What Should You Include in a Grievance Policy?

To ensure you're managing any grievances you receive correctly, it's good practice to create a grievance policy. Your policy should be shared with all your employees, especially new starters.

Make sure you include the following in yours: * How they should raise their grievance and who it should be made to. * Fully explain how to appeal the employer's decision if required. * How appeal decision shall be given and provided to the employee.

You should include both your grievance policy within your company handbook or personnel manual.

Should You Put Disciplinary Proceedings on Hold During the Grievance Process? Yes, you may have to pause ongoing disciplinary proceedings to investigate a grievance. You should make the employee aware of this.

Get Expert Advice on Grievances with BrightHR

As an employer, your employees may raise concerns. It may not seem a huge problem in your eyes - but how you deal with them is vitally important. Having a clear grievance procedure in place can help you resolve complaints quickly and avoid claims being raised against you. Not doing so can lead to financial damages to pay in the future.

If you need any advice when employees resign, we are on hand to help. Our BrightAdvice helpline. Give our friendly and helpful team a call on 0800 783 2806 (tel: 08007832

Share this article

More on what is acceptable employee conduct in the workplace?

Breaks at Work

Breaks are crucial to a workers day. They allow your staff to recharge and rest before returning to work. Providing breaks should be a main priority ...

How should you handle an office romance?

When two employees engage in a romantic relationship of any kind, its a workplace affair. This includes extramarital affairs in the workplace. A ...

Emotional intelligence in the workplace

In the modern business world, there’s a greater emphasis on good mental health than in any other previous generations. For the first time, employers ...

What can you do to improve employee work ethic?

What’s work ethic, then? It’s the principle that hard work is of great benefit and will improve an employee’s abilities and character. Employees ...

What are formal and informal warnings at work?

If an employee’s work, conduct at work, or absence is generating frequent concern within the business, their employer may begin the process of formal ...

How to manage problems with social media in the workplace

Social media in the workplace comes with its difficulties—youve no doubt already faced some. When your staff scroll through their personal social ...

Is serious insubordination grounds for dismissal?

What is serious insubordination? Serious insubordination is an example of gross misconduct where an employee refuses to follow sound instructions ...

What is professional misconduct?

There is a common sense approach to this. For example, if someone is frequently arriving twenty minutes late in the morning then this would be ...

Do you have a mobile phone usage policy?

If you dont have a mobile phone policy at work, this guide will help you draw one up. And if you do already have one were sure youll find something ...