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What should happen and what are my rights if a grievance is raised against me at work?

Published 13 June 2023

Work relationships can become strained or breakdown, but how much do you really know about what happens if a colleague makes a formal complaint about you and about your rights in such a situation?

Co-workers can sometimes be like family and friends, in that they are great when things are going well, and the worst of enemies if it all goes badly wrong.

The fallout, mental and emotional anguish and stress involved in having to deal with such a situation at work, can be incredibly difficult to manage.

It’s unfortunate, but highly likely, that at some stage in your working life you will face a problem with someone you work alongside or with… it is the harsh reality of working life.

The extent of that problem can vary from a minor disagreement that can be quickly resolved to a deep-rooted conflict that lasts for a long time.

There can also be situations in which you are completely unaware you have done anything to upset a workmate, but they have taken great offence to something you have innocently said or done.

This can happen in any working environment, and lead to a formal grievance being raised against you.

A grievance is a problem, concern or a complaint raised by an employee with their employer [1 cited 13.6.23]

It can be for any number of reasons, which can include a colleague feeling aggrieved by the manner in which you have treated them e.g. bullied, harassed or discriminated against them.

And remember both bullying and discrimination do not have to be intentional to be considered wrong.

So, the first time you may be aware there is an actual problem and a colleague has taken umbrage to something you have done, is when you are informed a grievance has been raised against you.

There can also be circumstances in which workplace tensions have been simmering for a while and so a formal complaint against you, although unsettling, is not exactly unexpected.

According to a recent survey the top three reasons for employee grievances are bullying or harassment (67 per cent), relationships with managers (54 per cent) and relationships with colleagues (49 per cent) [2 cited 13.6.23]

Disciplinary and grievance procedures are there to ensure that these challenges are dealt with fairly and consistently.

If a grievance is raised against you, then your employer should follow its own grievance procedure or the ACAS Code of Practice [3 cited 13.6.23]

The fact a formal complaint has been submitted against you, is likely to make you feel stressed, anxious, or even angry about the situation.

It is vital that you try to remain professional and respectful and avoid personal attacks or defensiveness.

Focus on addressing the specific concerns raised in the grievance and providing a clear account of your perspective.

Here is our essential guide on what should happen if a grievance is submitted against you, and what you should do in that situation.

So what should happen after a colleague raises a grievance against me?

Your employer should inform you that a grievance has been raised against you.

Your employer will follow its grievance procedure in order to investigate and establish the facts.

The colleague who has made the complaint will be invited to attend a grievance hearing.

At that meeting they will explain their grievance and provide the details and any evidence they have to support their case against you.

You should then be interviewed as part of the subsequent investigation into the complaint.

Questions will be put to you based on what your colleague has said and you could be challenged about any evidence they have supplied to the grievance investigator.

The meeting should provide an opportunity for you to fully respond to any allegation made against you and to give your version of events.

There is no statutory right for you to be accompanied at the meeting, known as an investigation or fact-finding meeting, when you are interviewed.

However, it is good practice for an employer to offer you the opportunity to have a companion with you, who can be a colleague or trade union representative.

If you are not offered the right to be accompanied you should ask if you can be.

Your employer can refuse the request if it believes it is unreasonable e.g. if the person you choose is unavailable, unsuitable, or involved in the matter.

It is always beneficial to be accompanied at any investigation meeting you are notified to attend.

A companion can provide moral support, be a witness which can reduce the chances of you being treated unfairly or improperly, take notes on your behalf and help to represent you.

Copies of the minutes taken during an investigation meeting should be provided to you, so that you can check, amend and sign them.

How long an investigation will take can vary from case to case, but your employer should tell you the timescale for resolving the matter. Some grievance policies will detail the expected investigation timeframe.

Once the investigation is concluded you are entitled to be informed of the outcome of the grievance where appropriate and where it relates to you.

What happens next can, again, vary. If the grievance against you is upheld your employer will take appropriate action, which could mean you are invited to attend a disciplinary hearing

You will be required to attend a disciplinary hearing if the grievance investigation gives your employer genuine cause for concern regarding your conduct.

The hearing could lead to disciplinary action being taken against you, which could be a first or final warning, demotion or even dismissal.

If the grievance is rejected, then no further action will be taken. Or in some cases mediation may be considered appropriate to address the matters that have arisen from the grievance [4 cited 13.6.23] .

If you categorically denied any grievance allegation and it is established that it was in fact malicious, your employer may take appropriate and necessary action against the complainant.


How best to respond to a grievance raised against you.

Try and stay calm, composed and be professional. Take the time to process your emotions because if you react impulsively or defensively it can cause the matter to escalate and make it much worse.

Carefully review the complaint to make sure you have a clear understanding of any allegation before you respond.

Think about, collect and gather any evidence and relevant information that can help you to refute any claim made against you.

Preparation is key, so think about the matter and how best to respond and do so in a manner that is clear and organised. Include relevant facts, your perspective on the situation, and any evidence that supports your position.

Given the potential ramifications you could face if a grievance against you is upheld, it is always advisable to seek expert advice on how best to deal with the situation.

If you are uncertain about the matter speak to HR, management or a trade union representative if you are a union member for any clarification you need.

If you do find yourself in a position where you need help to deal with a grievance that has been raised against you, and you need the best advice available contact our Employee Support Centre.

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For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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