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How should employers address grievances?

In considering grievances employers should follow a properly drafted grievance procedure and the ACAS Code of Practice for disciplinary and grievance procedures, which sets out the basic requirements of fairness and reasonable behavior that apply in virtually all cases.

The Code is not directly enforceable in relation to grievances, but a failure to follow it by employer or employee may result in an increase or reduction (as the case may be) of up to 25% in any Tribunal award in any successful proceedings for unfair dismissal.

What procedure should be followed in raising a grievance?

A grievance is a work-related complaint made in writing. It is advisable (but not essential) that the grievance is stated to be such.
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If raised it creates a legal requirement for the employer to attempt to resolve the grievance regardless of the seniority of the employee. The grievance should be directed to the employee’s line manager, unless the line manager is the subject of the complaint.

Grievances can be raised and resolved informally, but if either the employer or employee declines to do so or this fails to resolve the matter, then a formal procedure should be followed.

That procedure should be contained in an employer’s grievance policy, but in the absence of any policy the minimum requirement is that:

  • The employee should set out the grievance in writing
  • A person independent of the grievance should represent the employer and carry out an investigation, taking notes and statements as appropriate
  • The employee is then invited to a meeting with the employer to consider the complaint and may be accompanied by a representative to speak on their behalf (either a union representative or a colleague)
  • Any evidence should be supplied to the employee in writing in advance
  • The meeting should take place promptly (a week is recommended) and the employer should then consider the grievance. The employee is in turn entitled to make representations and call witnesses, as is the person who may be the subject of the grievance.
  • The employer may respond at the meeting, or adjourn to make investigations before responding.
  • The employer should respond in writing within a reasonable timescale informing the employee of the outcome (usually 1 day)
  • A copy of the notes of the meeting should be given to the employee
  • The employee should also be notified of the right to appeal identifying the grounds of appeal
  • If the employee lodges an appeal then any further hearing with the employee (and any representative) should take place to discuss those grounds (usually within 1 week).
  • The appeal must be heard by a person who is independent of the original grievance decision
  • The decision on appeal must then be notified in writing to the employee within a reasonable timescale
  • A copy of the notes of the appeal should be given to the employee

The employer is not obliged to accept the grievance, but should conduct the procedure in good faith, give reasoned conclusions and take any reasonable steps needed to address the grievance.

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