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How grievance procedure works

Published 15 June 2018

How the Grievance procedure works


It’s inevitable in the workplace that at some time or another an employee will have genuine cause for complaint.

The odd grumble about being in a bad mood, frustration at not getting things done as expected or wanting to finish early are routine everyday complaints.

But what do you do when an employee has a serious complaint, which is much more than just a routine gripe?

When a worker feels strongly aggrieved about a work related matter they can raise a formal grievance. Grievances are concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise with their employer (1).

In dealing with a grievance employers should follow the ACAS Code of Practice. It is a statutory document that provides basic practical guidance and sets out principles for handling grievances (2).

A failure to observe the Code at any point can result in financial penalties. Employment tribunals take it into account when considering cases and have the power to adjust awards by up to 25 per cent for any unreasonable failure to comply with it.

An initial informal attempt should be made to resolve a grievance. The benefit of such an approach is that if successful, the concern can be identified, discussed and addressed quickly without formality and in a way that is agreeable to all parties.

It can also be done without having to carry out comprehensive investigations or involving other employees who may be witnesses or connected to the matter.

The informal approach will not always work and in some cases it may also not be appropriate, especially when the complaint is serious and potentially has widespread implications.

The decision to pursue a formal grievance is not one most employees will take lightly. It can be a daunting for the individual in terms of what to expect.

An employer’s grievance procedure should set how you can raise a grievance and the process that will be followed once it has been submitted (3).

Typically such a policy should be available in the company handbook, employment contract, on the company intranet or upon request.

It will usually cover how to raise a grievance, steps that will be taken to address and resolve it and the right to appeal against an outcome.

A grievance hearing should be arranged without unreasonable delay (4). The aim of that meeting should be to ascertain the facts and discover the best way to resolve the issue

An employee has a statutory right to be accompanied at a grievance hearing by a companion, who can be a trade union representative or work colleague (5). The chosen companion can present or sum up the employee’s case and speak on their behalf, but not answer questions for them.

Understandably grievances can be difficult and emotionally challenging for all involved. The discussion can cover numerous topics, many of which may seem important to the employee but not be relevant to their complaint.

At the hearing the exact nature of the complaint and the points to investigate should be clearly established and agreed.

After the meeting and subsequent grievance investigation the employer should write to the employee with an outcome. It should set out its findings, and where appropriate what action it intends to take to resolve the grievance.

An employee can appeal if they are unhappy with the outcome or the investigation that was carried out. This should be dealt with by a more senior member of staff.

The grievance appeal is usually the last stage of a grievance process. However, depending on the nature of the grievance, the employee may seek to resolve the matter through the pre-claim conciliation service (6). This presents an opportunity to settle the dispute before going to court.


1. Grievances | Disputes and grievances [Internet]. UNISON National. [cited 2018 Jun 9]. Available from:

2. ACAS Code of Practice [Internet]. Castle Associates Ltd. 2017 [cited 2018 Jun 9]. Available from:

3. Handling an employee’s grievance [Internet]. GOV.UK. [cited 2018 Jun 11]. Available from:

4. Raise a grievance at work [Internet]. GOV.UK. [cited 2018 Jun 11]. Available from:

5. Have I got the right to choose who comes with me to meetings with management? | workSMART [Internet]. [cited 2018 Jun 11]. Available from:

6. Early Conciliation - Workplace Dispute Service [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2018 Jun 11]. Available from:




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