What is a grievance at work?

What to do when an employee makes a complaint.

When employees have a concern or complaint at work, they can take it up with you as a grievance.

Typically the situation comes about due to terms and conditions within their employment contract. Or if they feel like the treatment they’re receiving is unfair.

Whatever the grievance at work is, sometimes you can sort the problem out by discussing it through with your staff member. However, other times the matter can become more complex and require a hearing process.

In our article, we take a look what all of this involves and how your business can handle the situation.

But remember that you can always refer to our employment law advice for immediate assistance on this matter.

The types of grievances

So, what’s a grievance? They’re concerns that develop at your workplace between an employee and their colleagues, or with your business.

Typical examples include an employee reporting issues of:

  • Bullying and harassment.
  • Payroll issues.
  • Difficulties with working conditions.
  • Concerns about workload—health & safety risks.
  • Discrimination.
  • Terms and conditions conflicts.

 It’s your legal requirement to provide a grievance procedure at work that’ll help them express their concerns (raising a grievance).

While they offer support to your staff, it also provides a vital dispute resolution service for your business.

You’ll have process to follow that leads to a resolution, one that’ll also help you follow existing employment laws.

Remember, it’s good business practice to follow Acas’ Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures with regard to this issue.

Your procedure of grievance

Right, what exactly will your business’ process need to be? There’s a three step plan you can follow:

  1. Ask for employees to submit their grievance to a line manager that explains the concern they have in detail.
  2. Hold a formal meeting to discuss the issue and see if you can address the problem. This is a grievance hearing—your staff member can ask for a colleague (or union representative) to accompany them to it.
  3. If the employee isn’t happy with the end result, they can make an appeal.

Remember, you must have a grievance procedure in place to avoid potential legal outcomes.

If you ignore employee grievances—or fail to address them soon enough—they can end up as an employment tribunal claim.

Holding a grievance hearing

Your employees may wonder how to write a grievance letter—they can refer to Citizens Advice for assistance with writing that, should they ask about the process.

So long as you receive a letter explaining their issues, then you have the grievance in writing for future reference.

You don’t always need to ask employees to submit a grievance in writing, but it’s a best practice to do so. Some employees may be unable to submit a written grievance due to a disability and denying them the right to raise a grievance would be unfair.

The next step in your grievance procedure for employees is to hold a hearing—you should do this without an unreasonable delay. For this, you must make sure that:

  • Your employee has a reasonable amount of time to prepare for the hearing.
  • A colleague or union representative accompanies them, if they request it.
  • The hearing is confidential and private.
  • You allow room for an open discussion where they can explain the nature of their issues.

After listening to the information, you can then make a decision on the right action to take.  You shouldn't make an immediate decision. Take your time to review the situation so you're aware of all the circumstances.

Obviously, you should still let your employee know your decision in a reasonable amount of time. Don’t delay on making a decision, or providing your answer.

You should also let them know they can appeal your decision if they want.

How to handle appeals

Remember, it’s your employee’s legal right to contest the result. It's the opportunity for them to present new evidence and argue their case.

As such, you should have a new, more senior, individual handle the second hearing wherever possible so as to keep the process fair.

You can refer them to their employee contract—it’ll outline what your appeal process is. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­

After you’ve received notification of your employee’s dissatisfaction, you can respond in writing about any changes to your decision.

Make sure that you outline your reasoning again. But state that your decision is final and they have no right to further appeal. 

Need our help?

If you’re struggling with any disciplinary or grievance-related issues at work, we’ll help you solve them as soon as possible. Contact us for immediate assistance: 0800 783 2806.

Share this article

More on employee-conduct

Employee attitudes at work

In the middle of that chain is employee attitude — when employees are happy and engaged, attitudes and productivity are more likely to be…


As an employer, dealing with employee conduct comes with the territory. However, it's vital you keep legally compliant when doing so…

Gossip in the Workplace

It’s only natural for employees to get to know each other. In fact, it’s great for business if your staff members get along. But over time…

Gross misconduct at work

What is gross misconduct? Gross misconduct covers a long list of offences that staff members could commit at work. This behaviour is…

How should you define misconduct in your workplace?

Occasionally, your employees might engage in behaviour that goes against your business procedures. You can make it clear what you expect…

Do you have a mobile phone usage policy?

If you don't have a mobile phone policy at work, this guide will help you draw one up. And if you do already have one we're sure you'll find…

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…

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…

How to manage problems with social media in the workplace

Social media in the workplace comes with its difficulties—you've no doubt already faced some. When your staff scroll through their personal…