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How to complain when serious problems arise in the workplace

Published 02 January 2018

Life in the workplace does not always run smoothly and as an employee there may come a time when you have cause for serious complaint.

If this is the case you can raise a formal grievance (1) in order for your employer to investigate and resolve the issue.

A grievance, which should be put in writing, is a concern, problem or complaint that an employee wishes to raise with their employer.

It can be as a result of unfair treatment in the workplace, tasks you are being asked to carry out, a dispute about pay, bullying, discrimination, health and safety concerns or the terms and conditions of employment.

If possible, and where appropriate, it always best to try and settle a grievance informally. This can usually be done by speaking directly to a manager or an employer. If this fails to satisfactorily resolve the issue then you can then submit a written grievance to your employer.

An organisation’s grievance procedure (2) will make it clear how it should be submitted, and it will also detail the process that will be followed. Some employers will have a specific form that will need to be filled in while others will accept a letter.

If an employee is at the stage where they feel they need to submit a formal grievance emotions can be running high. This can sometimes lead to an employee submitting lengthy, rambling letters containing exhaustive details that cloud the issue.

The grievance letter should be concise. It should explain the complaint when it started, what attempts have been made to resolve it informally and any suggestions for resolving the issue. The letter should provide enough detail for the employer to clearly understand the nature of the complaint. The grievance hearing (3) presents an opportunity for you to expand on your letter and to fully explain your grievance.

If you wish to raise a formal grievance you should make this clear at the start of the letter and can write: I am writing to you as I wish to raise a formal grievance. The grounds for my grievance are as follows…

When writing a grievance consider what evidence is available to support the complaint you wish to make. Avoid making allegations that you cannot prove and try not to use emotive or abusive language.

If possible include dates and times of incidents, where they took place, who was involved and the names of any witnesses. If you cannot recall exact dates you can say for example ‘it was early August and in the week before the team meeting.’ In preparation for the grievance hearing, where there have been a number of incidents that make up the complaint, it is a good idea to prepare a timeline of events as it often makes it easier to recall what took place.

When writing the letter you will usually have a good idea of what you want your employer to do to resolve your grievance. You can include this in the letter.

If for example you have been underpaid, you can ask for this to be corrected and to be paid the money you are owed. This can be considered a reasonable solution, but bear in mind that not all grievances are this straightforward to resolve.

After submitting the grievance in writing an employer may make an initial attempt to try and resolve it informally. This approach is advised by the ACAS Code of Practice (4) . It is can sometimes be the case that simply talking about an issue and making an employer fully aware of the matter can be enough to get the problem sorted out.

The prospect of submitting a written grievance letter can be daunting and if you require assistance or need advice contact our employee support centre for free no obligation advice on 0333 772 0611 or request a call back.


1. Rasing a Grievance: FAQs [Internet]. Castle Associates Ltd. 2016 [cited 2017 Dec 5]. Available from:

2. Handling an employee’s grievance: Grievance procedure - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Dec 5]. Available from:

3. Grievance hearing | Acas advice and guidance. 2012 Dec 17 [cited 2017 Dec 5]; Available from:

4. Discipline and grievance - Acas Code of Practice [Internet]. 2009 [cited 2017 Dec 5]. Available from:




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