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UK Grievance Procedure for Employers

Failing to follow a grievance process in a fair and reasonable manner could make you liable on account of victimisation or another serious employment contract breach based on constructive dismissal.

If you’re unsure about how to proceed when faced with a grievance from an employee, call our expert employment solicitors at 0333 305 9375. We’re more than willing to guide you through the grievance process and shield you against any prospective claim or legal consequence that might ensue.


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    What Is a Grievance and a Grievance Procedure?

    Grievance means a “cause for complaint”. It’s basically similar to a protest or statement of dissatisfaction voiced by an employee due to an alleged problem at work.

    Grievance procedures are pathways that employees may utilise in accordance with UK’s employment law to keep employers at bay.

    However, not all grievances or complaints can call for a formal grievance procedure, but those that are formally raised following the grievance policy laid out in the staff’s handbook or any other suitable medium (such as the employment contract).

    In the absence of an internal procedure, both employers and employees should follow the guidelines contained in the Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. Also, note that although not all grievances follow a formal procedure, when dealing with informal grievances, there are steps you can still take to resolve matters without escalation.

    For assistance with handling matters of grievance and creating a grievance procedure that protects your business and is in line with the provisions of UK employment law, call us today on 0333 305 9375 or contact us online.

    Informal Grievance

    Employees are often encouraged to raise any problem or complaint to their employer informally in the hopes of getting an amicable resolution. This could be handled through a series of informal talks and meetings.

    Taking the problem seriously

    Even if the employee raises an issue informally, you’re encouraged to take it seriously.

    Not tackling these issues at these early stages could prove disastrous for your interests. Not only would you elicit the escalation of the problem to the level of a formal grievance, but you might also cause unnecessary tensions in the workplace and a drop in morale, and a dent in your company’s reputation.

    At this phase, it’s crucial that you don’t refuse reasonable requests from the afflicted employee, including the possibility of being accompanied by colleagues or trade union representatives. In addition, discrimination law allows employees to bring carers or interpreters for reinforced support.

    Keeping records

    You ought to ensure that, even if the problem doesn’t escalate into a formal complaint, you keep records of any agreements and terms you have reached with the complaining employee. This could shield you against any future claim of discrimination or victimisation.

    These records, according to the recommendations posited by Acas, should contain the following mentions:

    • A summary of the problem
    • How it was dealt with (meeting, online chat, etc.)
    • The discussions that were carried out.
    • What was agreed upon, and the reasons why those agreements were reached.

    If the issue gets resolved informally

    You should ask the employee (preferably in writing) whether they think the issue was resolved and if they have any additional concerns. If the employee responds negatively, you would have to attempt to review and see whether the next steps agreed were fulfilled and schedule more informal meetings.

    Formal Grievance

    Formal grievances usually follow from an unsuccessful informal resolution attempt, though this is not always the case. In any event, you are compelled to follow a formal procedure when employees raise a grievance.

    This formal grievance is submitted in writing and gives a detailed account of the subject at hand, as well as all the relevant information, evidence and possible witnesses.

    After receiving the formal complaint, you must act quickly and arrange a formal meeting. This should be done without any unreasonable delay as time will be running against you at this stage. If an investigation is necessary, you should also carry it out promptly.

    Your formal grievance procedure may involve the following steps:

    • Mediation
    • Initial meeting
    • Grievance investigation
    • A decision
    • Appeal

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    Mediation can be summoned at any stage of the proceedings. The person assigned as a mediator should be agreed upon by all the involved parties. The mediator may be a person from outside or inside the company. You should be ready to pay if a person from outside the company gets involved.

    Mediators could be employees from the company who are accredited by an external mediation service to carry out mediation jobs apart from their ordinary day jobs.

    Mediation could be deemed as an unsuitable method for resolving the cause of the grievance if it’s employed as a first resort (not allowing for mutual understanding between both parties) or whenever there is a possible criminal activity involved, among other circumstances.

    Preparing the Initial Meeting

    The initial meeting is, as its name might give out, the very first meeting held after you’ve received the formal grievance letter. You would have to notify the employee of the date, time, and place of the meeting, as well as their right to bring a companion (a colleague or trade union representative).

    Typically, this meeting should be scheduled within five working days, though you should allow employees enough time to prepare. This time is also given so that companions and witnesses can be notified and prepared in due time.

    In preparation for the meeting, you would want to find a person not involved in the meeting to take notes and act as a witness to the proceedings. Also, during the period prior to the meeting, you should check any previous records of similar grievances to ascertain how they were settled, if anything, because you would not want the employee to allege unfair treatment before an employment tribunal.

    We provide support and advice for matters relating to grievance for employers.

    The Meeting

    During this meeting, you would want to allow the employee to make their case, bring all the evidence and witnesses, and ask or answer any questions that may come up. You should also take the opportunity to ask pertinent questions so that you may get a hint about the next steps you must take.

    It’s important to stress that you should appear neutral at all times. If possible, give the grieving employee as many opportunities as possible to prove their case.

    After all the issues have been thoroughly discussed and all the evidence has been evaluated, you should be able to issue a decision, though it’s always commendable to take some time to carefully assess all the elements before deciding anything. If there are any matters that merit further investigation, you ought to suspend judgment until the investigation is over and all facts have been wholly established.

    two people discussing to represent an employer and employee

    Grievance Investigation

    If an investigation is needed, you should inform the employee and arrange a date for a further meeting or commit yourself to notify once you are able to gather the necessary data and evidence. Nonetheless, the investigation should not be open-ended. Instead, it’s critical that you at least give employees an estimate on when a decision would be reached.

    The estimated amount of time needed must be consonant with the parameters established in the company’s grievance policy, or if there isn’t any, it must be calculated within reasonable limits. If there were any delays in the investigation, you must let the employee know about them and the detailed reasons behind them.

    If other employees are involved in the grievance (for example, if the issue had to do with a workmate engaging in bullying or harassment), you may want to investigate and, if warranted, take disciplinary actions against the offender.

    Another thing to keep in mind is confidentiality and data protection.

    Confidentiality and Data Protection

    During your grievance undertakings, you must uphold confidentiality at all costs and not reveal any personal or financial information about the parties involved in the controversy in light of data protection law. The only information you’re allowed to disclose is information that the person expressly consented to.

    You could also withhold information that could otherwise compromise a witness or any other involved party.

    Grievance Outcome from a Formal Procedure

    The employer’s decision made at the end of a formal workplace grievance procedure must be in accordance with the findings from the investigations and the grievance hearing while also considering how similar matters were resolved.

    Any decision you reach must be notified to the grieving employee in writing, making sure to include all the relevant data and the underpinnings behind the decision, as well as the employee’s right to appeal it.

    If you have determined that no action is needed, and in order to keep things peaceful within the workplace, you’d want to ensure that the employee is pleased with the decision and that there are no loose ends.

    a person smiling to represent a positive grievance outcome

    The Appeal

    Grieving employees ought to be given the opportunity to appeal the decision if they believe that it did not resolve the issue or that there were problems at any point in the employer’s grievance procedure.

    Provided that you have the necessary resources, you could assign a different person who was not involved in the proceedings or in the case at hand to conduct the appeal meeting, such as an HR manager or similar.

    The appeal hearing should be carried out in a similar manner as any meeting held in the original grievance procedure. The employee is also permitted to present new evidence at this meeting and to ask you or the person assigned to conduct the appeal to revisit and look closer at the facts at hand and the pieces of evidence brought.

    Re-hearing vs. Review

    Under this paradigm, the person in charge of hearing the appeal can treat the appeal as either a review or a re-hearing, depending on the petition made by the employee and the manner in which the original grievance procedure was conducted and decided.

    A review consists of assessing the previous investigation to ensure that the grievance was perused correctly and the decision was made according to reason. Meanwhile, a re-hearing basically prompts a whole new investigation of the facts, overriding the previous one. Re-hearings are considered only if there is a serious suspicion that the original procedure was fraught with substantial flaws.

    The Appeal Decision

    The decision made in relation to the appeal must be issued in writing and contain all the relevant information about the points brought up, how they were analysed, why the conclusion was reached, and the right on the part of the employee to call for mediation or file an employment tribunal claim if they feel that the resolution was insufficient.

    We provide support and advice concerning grievance procedures. Get in touch with us today to discuss.

    Employment Tribunal Claim

    Employees who felt that their grievance was not taken seriously enough or that the formal grievance procedure did not meet their expectations are entitled to present their case before an employment tribunal, but not before informing Acas (Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service), who will offer them “early conciliation”.

    Note that there are many things involved in an employment tribunal claim. They can be expensive and time-consuming. Furthermore, without the right ​help, your chances of succeeding can get very slim. Therefore, it is crucial that you have a formal grievance procedure and do everything you can to resolve the issue to prevent your employee from taking a claim against you to the tribunal.

    If you need help with creating a formal grievance procedure or you have a claim against you at the employment tribunal, we can help. Call us today on 0333 305 9375 for immediate assistance.

    a judges hammer to represent the employment tribunal

    How IAS Law Can Help

    A grievance procedure is no laughing matter. The possible outcomes of an employee’s grievance, even one handled informally, could carry serious repercussions for your business if you don’t take all the necessary measures to tackle it. These repercussions may consist not only of eventual tribunal expenses but also serious harm to your company’s reputation and image.

    One of the first things you should do as an employer confronted with a possible grievance is to contact an employment law specialist. Our solicitors at IAS Law can offer timely advice on properly handling HR management and grievance cases, ensuring that every legal flank is covered at each stage of the process or even before the process starts.

    For more information about the services we provide, don’t hesitate to contact us by calling 0333 305 9375 or contacting us online via contact form or live chat. Our professionals are available to address any concerns you may have.

    Our expert employment support and advice sessions are available in person at our offices, or via the phone.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    An employment tribunal is a tribunal public body that, as the name suggests, deals with controversies relative to employment. These tribunals can hear and resolve claims of discrimination and victimisation in the workplace, among other subjects.

    If you have reasons to believe that the employee is raising a grievance for dishonest purposes (such as making you waste time or stall a potential disciplinary action), you could deal with the grievance either way, but apprising the employee of possible disciplinary procedure on the grounds of a “malicious grievance”.

    Grievance procedures may take from one to four weeks, depending on the complexity of the case and the scope of the investigation. If the investigation involves other employees, it could take longer than that.

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