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How to handle a workplace grievance

Published 24 July 2017

In the ideal world all working relationships would be problem free.

The workplace would be a completely harmonious environment, workers would get on with each other and there would never be any cause for complaint.

Unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world and the reality is that knowing how to effectively and correctly deal with workplace problems is crucial.

Any worker can raise a grievance at any time. For the member of staff complaining, and the organisation having to deal with it, it can be a difficult and stressful time.

Grievances are concerns, problems or complaints that workers raise with an employer.

The reasons for a grievance can be varied and wide-ranging. It can be about unfair treatment, inappropriate comments, health and safety concerns or workplace changes.

Employers should have a written grievance procedure (1) in place, which has been communicated to all staff.

The policy should clearly explain what a worker needs to do should they wish to raise a formal grievance. It should detail the procedure that will be followed once they have done so.

The policy can include the following:

  • The grievance has to be submitted in writing and include details of the complaint.

  • An explanation about the initial informal steps that may be taken to resolve the problem.

  • Explain what happens if an informal approach is unsuccessful.

  • How a formal grievance hearing will be conducted

  • Detail the right to appeal the grievance outcome and the appeal procedure.

It is important to deal with a grievance in a timely manner and without unreasonable delay.

Where the matter cannot be resolved informally the worker should be invited to attend a formal grievance hearing.

The individual has statutory right to be accompanied at a formal grievance hearing by a suitable companion (2) as set out in the Employment Relations Act 1999.

There may be cases where an employee suggests a companion, such as a family member of friend, who may not be considered suitable. An employer does not have to agree to this, but any such request and the reasons for it should be carefully considered and the subsequent decision explained.

At the grievance hearing (3) the worker should be allowed to fully explain the grievance and how they would like it to be resolved. During the hearing the individual may express strong feelings or become emotional and allowances should be made for this.

For an employer it is important to remain calm and objective and to put thought and care into how best to resolve the matter.

During the hearing invite the worker to present any evidence they believe can support the grievance. Where issues are unclear always seek clarification.

It may become apparent during the meeting that further investigation is required to establish some facts, and the worker should be informed that this is the case.

One of the most common complaints about a grievance investigation is that it missed or did not cover key parts of the complaint. At the end of a grievance hearing it is advisable to sum up and agree with the worker the main points to be investigated.

In providing the grievance outcome (4) the employer should make the worker aware of their right to appeal and who they should contact should they wish to do so.

Any appeal should set out the grounds for appeal and explain why the worker is unhappy with the decision. This may be for any number of reasons including that they believe the investigation or procedure was unfair or flawed.

The grievance appeal hearing (5) should be conducted similarly to the original hearing, and where practicable different people involved. This is not always possible in smaller organisations and in such cases it is advisable to seek expert advice (6) on how to proceed.

In most organisations the appeal stage brings the internal grievance procedure to a close. However, it is not uncommon for a worker to remain aggrieved having gone through the whole process.

A worker does have options if they believe they have not been treated fairly. In such circumstances they can consider pre-claim conciliation procedures (7) or making a claim to a tribunal if appropriate, which is why it is important to get the process right.


  1. Solve a workplace dispute: Formal procedures - GOV.UK [Internet]. Available from:
  2. Employment Relations Act 1999 [Internet]. Available from:
  3. Handling an employee’s grievance: The grievance hearing - GOV.UK [Internet]. Available from:
  4. What are the possible outcomes of a grievance? | FAQs | Tools | [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jul 24]. Available from:
  5. How to get an appeal procedure right - People Management Magazine Online [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jul 24]. Available from:
  6. Dealing with Grievances [Internet]. Castle Associates Ltd. 2014. Available from:
  7. Early Conciliation - Workplace Dispute Service. 2015 Dec 6; Available from:

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