What is a grievance?

The ACAS Code defines a grievance as “concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise with their employers”. This is wider in scope than the definition of a grievance hearing for the purpose of the right to be accompanied in the Employment Relations Act 1999 which applies to a duty by an employer in relation to a worker. Generally it is considered good practice to allow an employee to be accompanied in all cases and this eliminates the risk of inadvertently denying an employee their statutory rights.

Employee grievances can arise for a number of reasons and an employee may wish to discuss concerns or complaints about their work, employment terms, working conditions, relationships with colleagues or even a client, customer or supplier. These complaints might arise due to a poor or inexperienced manager, a poor working environment allowing bullying or discriminatory behaviour, misconceptions about the motivation of others, changes to working practices which the employee does not like. In fact, a grievance could be about anything and whether founded or not, feelings often tend to run high.

It is, therefore, crucial that a company has a written grievance procedure, not only so that an employer can deal with an employee’s grievance fairly, but so that it can be seen to be fair. If problems do arise, these procedures should help the employer and the employee to resolve them within the workplace. Ignoring the problem is not a solution, it won’t go away and a failure to address it will undoubtedly lead to the problem being exacerbated and often leads to long term illness.

Failure to have a grievance procedure and to follow it could result in extra compensation for the employee if they succeed in a tribunal claim. We also provide a manager’s checklist for grievances.

The Legal Position

By law, the employer must inform each employee of:

  • the name of the person to whom they should apply to seek redress for a grievance
  • how they should make this application

This information can be included in the employee’s written statement of employment or contract or the written statement or contract may refer the employee to a document where they may find it, eg. in a staff handbook.

A failure to provide this information to an employee, and they succeed in another employment tribunal claim, eg unlawful discrimination, they could be awarded two or four weeks’ pay in compensation.

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