You should consider exercising your legal right to pursue a grievance if you believe you have been treated unfairly at work.
Here we explain your rights when raising a grievance. We look at how you can maximise your chances of success. And we consider your options if you remain dissatisfied with how your employer handles your complaint.
We will also explain the support WRS can provide to help you win your grievance case.
And you may also want to read our post providing a 10 step guide on pursuing a grievance. Grievance
A grievance can relate to anything you are unhappy about at work.
ACAS’s Code of Practice – which provides instructions on the handling of grievances – describes them as being “concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise with their employer”. Matters you might want to raise a grievance about are wide-ranging and could include if:
- You feel that you have been treated or spoken to improperly.
- Changes have been made to your job that you are unhappy about.
- You have been discriminated against, bullied or harassed.
- You have been denied something you believe you should be entitled to. This could be higher pay, a better grade, improved performance rating or bonus, or just about anything else that concerns you.
You could also raise a grievance against the improper handling of disciplinary proceedings against you. This option should only used sparingly when it is clear your case has been badly mismanaged. Don’t merely use it as a tactic to ‘put a spoke in the works’ of a disciplinary case you are unhappy with.
Good preparation is key to your chances of winning your grievance.
Depending upon the nature of your concerns, this could involve:
- Obtaining and familiarising yourself with your employer’s grievance policy. Also any other policies, procedures or official communications relating to your concerns.
- Where appropriate, keeping a diary and/or notes of all matters relating to your case. If your concerns have evolved over a period of time, it is ideal to be able to provide evidence of what happened and when.
- Collating relevant emails, letters, meeting notes and anything else relevant to your case.
- Any input that you have been able to collect from witnesses.
As part of good preparation, it is always advisable that you confirm in writing any conversations you might have with your manager or anyone else with whom you have dealings. Equally, if you receive something in writing with which you disagree, then note your disagreement in writing.
This way, should you need to raise your concerns at a later date, you know that you can produce a reliable ‘evidence chain’ supporting your case.
All too often, we find that people who have clear recollections of conversations with their line managers of what has been agreed or discussed in the past, find that such conversations have been conveniently ‘forgotten’. Or, perhaps, their manager has moved on. This leaves them with ‘weak foundations’ upon which to base their grievance.
Being able to provide solid evidence will help to construct a compelling Written Statement to support your case.
Data subject access request
For some complaints, it may be worth submitting a Data Subject Access Request (DSAR).
Click here for further details on submitting a DSAR.
This can be a useful tool if you suspect improper or underhand conduct by your employer. Or if there are emails or other documentation relevant to your case in which you have been personally mentioned.
In fact, if your employer realises that it has acted improperly – or that a DSAR will expose compromising material – it may wish to resolve your concerns swiftly and amicably. This could even involve a Settlement Agreement.
ACAS Code of Practice
Your employer should have a grievance policy detailing how employee complaints and concerns will be handled. This must comply with the requirements of the ACAS Code of Practice.
If your case ends up to Employment Tribunal, the amount of compensation you could receive might be adjusted up or down by as much as 25% if either you or your employer didn’t follow ACAS guidelines.
That is why you should not only take care to meet ACAS requirements, but write to your employer if it fails to do so. This can give you extra leverage over your employer and increase your chances of success if your employer discovers it is at fault.
Grievance response to conduct or capability (performance or sickness) proceedings
Occasionally, it may be appropriate to lodge a grievance (or a harassment case) in direct response to proceedings your employer is taking against you.
Your employer may have ridden roughshod over the requirements of its own policies. Or those of ACAS’s Code of Practice. Or you may feel your employer’s actions have an ulterior motive – perhaps to bully, harass or intimidate you.
The ACAS Code of Practice states that:
“Where an employee raises a grievance during a disciplinary process the disciplinary process may be temporarily suspended in order to deal with the grievance. Where the grievance and disciplinary cases are related it may be appropriate to deal with both issues concurrently”.
In these circumstances, consider raising a grievance as soon as you suspect you may be called to a disciplinary or other similar meeting. Don’t delay until you have been given an actual meeting date.
Then, if your employer presses ahead with disciplinary proceedings without hearing your grievance first, it runs the risk of criticism (and increased compensation) if you take your case to employment tribunal.
The simple rule on whether to raise a Grievance case is this: don’t try to be too clever! If you have genuine grounds for a grievance, then pursue a case. But don’t use this as a tactic to interrupt legitimate and fairly handled disciplinary proceedings, since an employment tribunal would take a dim view of such tactics.
Your complaint may be so serious that you have grounds for claiming constructive dismissal.
Where this is the case, you will need to resign and then prove that your employer has so fundamentally breached your contract of employment that you have no reasonable option but to.
However, what is involved in claiming constructive dismissal – and the chances of success – is often misunderstood. Before taking this step, you really must seek professional advice.
You can read more about claiming constructive dismissal here.
First raise your concerns informally
Once you have decided you are going to raise your concerns, you should first try to resolve them informally.
Ask for an informal meeting with your manager to discuss what is troubling you. However, if your manager is implicated, you should either speak to another manager or someone from your HR department. Your employer’s grievance policy may state who that person should be.
Unfortunately, you have no right to be accompanied at this first informal meeting.
Submit a written grievance letter
If you don’t succeed in resolving your concerns informally, you should trigger the formal grievance process. You do this setting out your complaint in writing.
Your grievance complaint letter should:
- State that this is a formal grievance complaint.
- Set out in brief, factual details the nature of your complaint so that your employer is able to understand your concerns.
- Explain what outcome you are seeking.
- Stress that an independent hearing manager must be appointed to consider your complaint.
- Also that the meeting should be arranged as soon as possible.
- If you intend to exercise your legal right to be accompanied, whether this will be by a work colleague or representative of a union (WRS can arrange this if you aren’t already a union member).
It is important to strike the right balance in your grievance complaint letter. You must cover in general terms all the key features of your complaint. Otherwise you are at risk of the Hearing Manager being pedantic and insisting upon not considering additional concerns only raised at the meeting.
But do not provide too much granular detail. If you do, you may find that the Hearing Manager is coached before the meeting on how to respond to and disrupt your case.
It is best that you only set out the full arguments in support of your case in your Written Statement.
Grievance meeting arrangements
Your employer must “arrange for a formal meeting to be held without unreasonable delay” (ACAS Code of Practice).
It should provide acknowledgement of your grievance and confirm meeting arrangements within 14 days of your complaint letter. Your employer’s grievance policy may apply shorter timescales.
The Hearing Manager and Notetaker should, wherever possible, be completely independent. In large organisations, that means working in a completely different area.
The confirmation letter from your employer should:
- Acknowledge that you have raised a formal grievance.
- State the date, location and time of the proposed grievance hearing; with at least 2 working days’ advance notice so that you have time to prepare.
- Provide details of the name of the Hearing Manager and Notetaker. So you can check in advance that they are suitably independent.
- Confirm that you have a right to be accompanied by a colleague or representative of a trade union.
- Advise you that if you need to rearrange the date of the grievance meeting (perhaps to ensure your companion can attend), you must do so as soon as possible.
- Enclose a copy of your employer’s grievance policy.
If you do need to rearrange the formal meeting, this must normally be within 5 working days of the original date.
We cannot emphasise enough just how important it is to have a detailed and compellingly Written Statement to present at your grievance meeting.
This document will form part of the written record of the meeting – so your case cannot be misrepresented by your employer in the minutes.
Even more importantly, it will enable you to explain all your points in a clear and structured way. Presented effectively, it will also help you exercise control of the meeting; avoiding a disjointed approach where the Hearing Manager may divert you with a series of questions that meet your employer’s agenda.
To be effective, your Written Statement should follow a clear structure:
- Provide a little background on yourself and your role in the company.
- Briefly detail the nature of your complaint.
- Where appropriate, raise any concerns you may have about the procedural handling of your case.
- Examine in depth each component of your complaint. Here you should include evidence substantiating your concerns. You should also contrast how you are treated with your employer’s policies. This section should form the bulk of your Written Statement.
- Briefly summarise your key arguments
- Conclude by confirming what outcome you are seeking.
It is important that permeating through your Written Statement is a clear and compelling narrative. This provides the best chance of your case being persuasive and fully understood. But don’t include every grumble you may have about how you have been treated if this detracts from the overall narrative. And try to stick to the relevant facts – don’t be emotional.
Don’t send your employer a copy of your Written Statement in advance. Otherwise, this will give the Hearing Manager an opportunity to form an opinion on your case before you have even met. It may also present the opportunity for the Hearing Manager (or someone guiding them) to prepare and come up with questions designed to ‘trip you up’ and make it harder for you at the grievance meeting.
Instead, print enough copies of your Written Statement to give everyone attending your grievance hearing.
WRS can prepare a Written Statement for you, using all our experience to maximise the chances of you winning your case. This would be prepared, discussed and agreed with you several days in advance of the hearing.
The grievance meeting
Let’s face it – when it arrives, you will almost certainly be nervous about attending your grievance meeting!
If you are on your own, you will be outnumbered by there being both a Hearing Manager and Notetaker. That is why, at the very least, we recommend you exercise your right to be accompanied by a work colleague. This will balance the meeting, give you moral support and ensure there is a witness to what is said.
The meeting should begin with the Hearing Manager introducing everyone present and explaining the format of the meeting.
Next, you must be given the opportunity to present your case:
- If you have exercised your right to be accompanied by a representative of a trade union (which WRS can arrange even if you haven’t previously been a union member). Your representative will present your case in a confident and compelling way, by running through and elaborating upon your Written Statement. By doing so, your representative can control the hearing and how your case is understood.
- If on your own – or with just a work colleague – then ideally you should present your case by using your Written Statement to structure the explanation of your arguments. However, if you don’t feel confident enough to do this, give the Hearing Manager a copy to read at the start of the hearing.
- The Hearing Manager may ask you questions either during or after you have presented your Written Statement. A well-structured statement will anticipate many of the questions that you could be asked; thereby keeping the meeting running very much on your terms.
You have a right to ask for an adjournment at any time if you need a break.
At the end of the meeting, the Hearing Manager should summarise your concerns. This is to be sure that he or she understands your case. You should also be told when you should receive minutes of the meeting and a written outcome. It is unlikely that your case will be decided on the day of the grievance hearing.
Grievance meeting minutes
The minutes of your grievance meeting should be sent to you within a reasonable time. This should be no more than 4 or 5 days, whilst everyone’s recollection of what was discussed remains fresh in their minds.
The minutes do not need to be a verbatim record, but capture key details of the points discussed.
You must check the minutes to ensure that they are an accurate record of the meeting. If you are to appeal against the outcome, or pursue legal proceedings, the minutes will serve as key evidence. You will normally be given no more than a week to respond.
If the Hearing Manager agrees that your proposed changes are accurate, the minutes will be amended. If not, both sets of minutes should be retained – with equal weight given to both versions of events.
Grievance outcome letter
The Hearing Manager should investigate all the concerns you raised during the grievance meeting.
Once they have done this, they should write to you with a detailed explanation of the decision they have reached.
This should normally take no more than 14 days. However, the Hearing Manager should tell you if longer is required to complete all necessary investigations.
You have a right to Appeal if you are unhappy with the Hearing Manager’s decision on your grievance case. This will normally be required within two weeks of receiving the Outcome Letter.
If you do choose to Appeal, the ACAS Code of Practice instructs that:
“The appeal should be dealt with impartially and wherever possible by a manager who has not previously been involved in the case”.
Wherever practicable, the Appeal Manager should be more senior than the Hearing Manager. They should also have the authority and discretion to uphold your case.
The same process must then be followed for the Appeal Meeting as applied during the original Grievance Meeting.
However, your Appeal Letter challenging the Hearing Manager’s Outcome Letter, and your Written Statement, should not merely be a re-hash of your original documentation. Instead they should focus on why you believe the Hearing Manager’s decision was unreasonable or wrong.
It is best that you receive professional guidance on what to write in your Appeal Letter. WRS can provide this.
Furthermore, if you are being supported by WRS, a new Appeal Written Statement will be prepared. This will focus in detail upon the specific reasons why the content of the Hearing Manager’s Outcome Letter was either flawed or unreasonable, together with drawing attention to any procedural concerns.
If you remain unhappy with the outcome of your Appeal, you may have the opportunity to commence legal proceedings against your employer.
Click here for guidance on making a complaint to an employment tribunal.