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The five-step grievance handling procedure


Mon 11 March, 2019


It’s certainly not unusual to hear an employee complain about work, colleagues or their boss, justified or otherwise.

In fact such informal grumbles are part of everyday working life and probably do not require much attention.

However, when the complaint is a formal one managing, investigating and resolving it in the right way is vital. Such work-related complaints are treated as a formal grievance. (1)

A grievance is a concern, problem or complaint that an employee raises with an employer.

An employee can raise a grievance for a number of reasons and circumstances, including but not limited to, a change in their terms and conditions of employment, bullying or harassment in the workplace, wages and discrimination.

Employers should have effective measures in place to deal with a grievance.

The Acas Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance Procedures (2) provides statutory guidance that all employers are encouraged to follow in regards to the grievance process.

A decision to raise a grievance is not one that is normally taken lightly by an employee, as they will not make a formal complaint for no reason.

In order to handle employee grievances, there should be a recognised, established and clear procedure in place which has been communicated to all employees.

Any complaint should be taken seriously, investigated without delay and the employee should get a fair hearing in order to avoid putting the business through a lengthy or costly employment tribunal. 

An employer’s failure to deal with an employee’s grievances was highlighted in the case of an 88-year-old medical secretary, in which the tribunal said her dismissal was ‘tainted by discrimination’(3). It was found that the employer did not address her formal complaints.

The grievance procedure used by different employers may vary slightly, but if it adheres to the ACAS Code guidance it is likely to be a five-step process.

Step 1 – Informal approach

Wherever possible an employer should make an initial attempt to resolve a grievance informally.

This can include speaking to the employee who has made the complaint in order to understand how they would like the matter to be resolved.

The aim of the informal approach is to try to prevent the matter from escalating and to settle the problem early on.

It is important during this stage to listen and take account of what the employee has to say, to reassure them that the complaint is being taken seriously and that it will be addressed.

If an informal approach is not appropriate or it does not address the grievance then the employer will revert to the formal process.

Step 2 – A formal meeting with the employee

This will involve holding a grievance hearing with an employee. The employee has a statutory right to be accompanied at a grievance hearing by a trade union representative or work colleague (4).

The meeting is an opportunity for the employee to explain the grievance and provide details, information or evidence to support the complaint. The employer should aim to establish the facts such as who, what, where, when, why and how the issue came to being.

After the employee has fully explained their grievance it may sometimes be possible at this stage, depending on the nature of the complaint, to resolve it.

Step 3 – Grievance investigation

If there is a need to conduct a grievance investigation it will include speaking to witnesses and any individuals implicated in the matter. This will help to shed light on the grievance and to establish the facts of the case.

Step 4 - Grievance outcome

Once the investigation has concluded and all of the facts established and considered a decision will then be made about whether to uphold all or part of the grievance or if to reject it. The decision should be communicated to the employee.

If the grievance is upheld, it may be resolved at this stage.  However, if it is part upheld or rejected or the employee remains aggrieved, the process may move on to the next stage.

Step 5 – Grievance appeal

The grievance outcome should notify the individual of their right to appeal. The appeal hearing chair should then establish why the employee is appealing the decision and what resolution the employee is seeking.

The case should be reviewed, the grounds for appeal investigated and fairly considered before an appeal outcome is reached. The appeal is usually the final stage of the grievance process.


1.Raising grievances [Internet] Castle Associates [cited 11.3.19]

2.Acas code of practice [Internet] ACAS [cited 11.3.19]

3.Age discrimination case [Internet] Personnel today [cited11.3.19]

4. Statutory right to be accompanied [Internet] [cited 11.3.19]

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