Employee grievances: what you need to know

And how you can prepare

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Monday, Jul 08, 2024

In the dynamic landscape of the modern workplace, grievances are an unavoidable aspect of managing human resources. Employers must be well-versed in recognising, addressing, and resolving disputes and various types of grievances to maintain a healthy and productive work environment.

When an employee raises a workplace grievance, you must take it seriously, whether or not you believe your employee grievance is valid. Because you don’t know what effect the grievance is having on them.

For example, their morale might have dropped because of the grievance raised, leading to their productivity levels dropping. And if you don’t address the grievance, you’ll find that as employee dissatisfaction increases, your employee retention numbers will fall as disgruntled staff leave your business. And no business owner wants that.

So, let's explore the various types of grievances in the workplace and discuss how to resolve grievances raised with an effective and fair grievance procedure ensuring legal compliance.

Understanding grievance at work

Workplace grievances can manifest in various forms, ranging from interpersonal conflicts to concerns about unfair treatment and violations of employment contracts.

These grievances can be broadly categorised into two types: informal grievances and formal grievances.

3 people trying to resolve an informal grievance

What is an informal grievance?

Informal grievances often arise from day-to-day interactions within the workplace. They may involve minor disputes, misunderstandings, or interpersonal conflicts that can be addressed through open communication between employees and their immediate senior manager.

While these grievances are less formal, they should not be dismissed, as they have the potential to escalate if left unaddressed.

You should encourage a culture of open communication and provide channels for employees to express their concerns informally.

Having regular check-ins, team meetings, and open-door policies can contribute to creating an environment where employees feel comfortable raising issues before they become major problems.

What is a formal grievance?

When informal channels prove ineffective or when the nature of the employee's grievance is more serious for example it involves sexual harassment or unwanted conduct, your employee may choose to escalate the matter and raise a formal grievance.

Formal grievances involve a structured process that follows the employer's grievance procedure, often outlined in the employment contract.

There is a statutory code of practice in place which governs how formal grievances should be dealt with.

What are grievance procedures?

You are required by law to establish a grievance procedure that must be shared in writing with all employees, such as in their statement of employment or company handbook. This procedure should include the following aspects:

  • The name and contact information for the person that your employee should contact in case of a grievance—usually their manager
  • If the issue cannot be resolved informally, a grievance hearing with the employee must be arranged
  • Time limits for each stage of the process must be established
  • The contact details of an alternative person to contact if the original contact is involved in the grievance
  • The process for appealing a grievance decision must be outlined
  • State that your employees are allowed to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative in any grievance meeting
  • How a grievance raised during disciplinary action will be handled and if further action is required

While you must have a written grievance procedure in place, it's not mandatory to include the grievance process in your employee contracts.

But, if you do outline grievance procedures in your employment contracts, it's important to remember that you must follow the procedure to a tee. Otherwise, your employee may file a breach of contract claim against you to an employment tribunal.

Also, if you don't act in accordance with the code of practice and a tribunal claim is raised against you a tribunal can increase any money awarded in that case by up to 25%.

3 people going through a grievance procedures

The formal grievance process

A formal process typically begins when your employee submits a written grievance to you, outlining the details of their concerns. This document should be treated seriously and promptly, initiating your obligation to follow a fair grievance procedure.

The grievance meeting or grievance hearing

When you receive a formal grievance, you should arrange a grievance meeting also referred to as a grievance hearing, to discuss the concerns raised. This meeting provides an opportunity for both the employer and employee to present their case, supported by any relevant evidence or witnesses.

You should approach this meeting with fairness and a commitment to understanding the issues at hand. As a fair and transparent grievance hearing is essential to thoroughly examine the grievances raised.

The grievance outcome

Following the grievance meeting or hearing, you must communicate the outcome to the employee. This may include any actions to be taken, changes in policies or procedures, or any disciplinary measures if deemed necessary.

It's crucial to document the decision and communicate it clearly to all relevant parties.

Remember, adhering to this formal procedure is not just good practice; it's a legal requirement. And to make sure your written grievance procedure is fair it's recommended to make it in line with Acas’s code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.

Examples of employee grievances in the workplace

To gain a deeper understanding of the types of grievances that can arise in the workplace, it's essential to explore specific examples across different types.

Employee grievances can manifest in various ways, ranging from issues related to pay and benefits to concerns about bullying, working conditions, and workload.

Addressing these examples effectively is crucial for maintaining a positive work environment and ensuring compliance with UK employment laws.

Pay and benefits grievances

One common area of concern for employees is their compensation and benefits package. Grievances related to pay and benefits may include:

Salary disputes

Employees may raise a grievance if they believe they are not being paid in accordance with their employment contract or if they feel that their salary is not equal to their responsibilities and contributions.

Bonus and incentive disputes

Grievances may arise if employees believe they are entitled to bonuses or incentives that have not been awarded or if there is a disagreement about the criteria for receiving such rewards.

Benefits package issues

Employees may express grievances regarding the adequacy or fairness of their benefits package, including health insurance, retirement plans, and other perks promised in their employment contract.

Pay discrimination

Grievances related to unequal pay, especially between employees in similar roles, can lead to a formal complaint if employees perceive that they are being unfairly compensated based on a protected characteristic outlined in the Equality Act 2010, such as gender or race.

To address this, you must be responsive to these grievances, conducting thorough reviews to ensure that pay and benefits align with employment contracts and legal requirements.

It's just as important to make sure that you have a pay and benefits policy that outlines how often you will conduct salary and benefit reviews with your employees and that any documents your employees receive are in line with this policy.

A person with pay grievances  holding a small amount of money

Bullying and harassment grievances

Bullying and harassment can create a toxic work environment, leading employees to file grievances. Examples of these types of grievances include:

Verbal harassment

Employees may experience grievances related to offensive or inappropriate comments, jokes, or language from colleagues or supervisors.

Cyberbullying

With the rise of digital communication, employees may raise a grievance regarding bullying through emails, messages, or social media platforms.

Discrimination

Grievances may arise if employees feel targeted due to their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, or other protected characteristics.

Retaliation

Employees who raise concerns about bullying or harassment and then face retaliation may raise a grievance based on the adverse treatment they experience.

Having anti-bullying and harassment policies in place can help you to address these types of grievances. These policies should include the disciplinary and grievance procedure you'll follow if an employee lodges a grievance for bullying or harassment.

You should also actively promote a culture of respect, and promptly address grievances related to inappropriate behaviour.

A person upset going through a formal grievance process

Working conditions grievances

Issues related to the physical or environmental aspects of the workplace can also lead to grievances. Examples include:

Health and Safety concerns

Employees may raise a grievance if they believe that the workplace poses health and safety risks, such as insufficient protective equipment, poor ventilation, or unsanitary conditions.

Workspace disputes

Grievances can arise when employees feel that their workspace does not meet reasonable standards or that their needs for privacy or comfort are not being addressed.

Facilities and equipment

Employees may raise concerns about the functionality and suitability of facilities and equipment provided, impacting their ability to perform their duties effectively.

Commute and travel issues

In cases where employees have to travel for work, grievances may arise if your policies or practices cause inconvenience, discomfort, or additional expenses.

You must proactively address working conditions, conduct regular risk assessments of the workplace environment, and address grievances to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere.

A person with unequal distribution of work

Workload grievances

Excessive workloads or unrealistic expectations can lead to a grievance related to stress and burnout. Examples include:

Unmanageable workloads

Employees may raise a grievance if they feel overwhelmed by the volume of tasks assigned to them, leading to stress, exhaustion, and potential health issues.

Unrealistic deadlines

Grievances can arise when employees believe that deadlines set by you, or a senior manager are unattainable or that they are not given sufficient time to complete tasks.

Lack of resources

Employees may file grievances if they feel they lack the necessary tools, resources, or support to fulfil their job responsibilities effectively.

Unequal distribution of Work

Grievances may occur when employees notice an unfair distribution of workload among team members, leading to resentment and dissatisfaction.

To address workload related grievances well, you should regularly assess workloads, provide adequate resources, and foster open communication to understand and manage employee concerns.

It's important to remember that all these types of grievances at work can be raised by not just one employee. If a group of your employees have the same concerns or complaints, they may come to you with a collective grievance.

Either way, collective grievances should be handled with a fair procedure in line with your formal grievance procedure and the law.

The law on employee grievance

In the UK, there's a solid legal framework in place to guide employers in handling workplace grievances fairly.

The Employment Rights Act is a key player here, that sets the legal requirement to establish a grievance procedure and the Acas code of practice outlines the procedure you should follow when a grievance is raised.

Ensuring that your employees have the right to voice their concerns without fear of reprisal or unfair treatment. And if you don't follow them, you could find yourself facing an employment tribunal claim.

Another game-changer, in addressing discrimination grievances head-on is the Equality Act 2010. It prohibits discrimination (direct discrimination or indirect discrimination) based on protected characteristics like age, sex, race, disability, and more. The Act also states that men and women are entitled to receive equal pay for equal work.

So, if employees raise a grievance involving discrimination or equal pay, it's vital to approach the matter with care, ensuring your actions align with the Equality Act.

3 people meeting after a grievance is solved

How BrightHR can help with grievance processes

By being proactive in addressing grievances and following fair grievance procedures, you can navigate potential challenges, comply with UK employment laws, and promote a workplace culture that prioritises employee wellbeing and satisfaction.

And that's where BrightHR comes in helping you address any employee complaint related to your business before they arise and at any stage of the grievance process. With 24/7 employment law advice, you can get quick, reliable advice to cut out any uncertainty.

When it comes to documenting grievances at work, having secure HR document storage is a must and with BrightHR you get access to unlimited cloud-based storage, alongside a document library of over 300 customisable HR templates.

Proactively addressing a grievance related to health and safety is also made easier with end-to-end health and safety software. From identifying risks with over 600+ risk assessment templates to reducing hazards and preventing accidents with real-time reporting.

A proactive and empathetic approach to handling grievances not only helps mitigate legal risks but also contributes to a healthier and more harmonious workplace.


Lucy Cobb

Employment Law Specialist

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