How to handle a grievance in the workplace

In this article, Victoria Brown aka LadyBossHR, details the process an employer should follow to handle a grievance correctly within the workplace.

Most of you will no doubt have a Grievance procedure, but how often do you actually need to use it?  In my experience, grievances can often be missed and the correct procedure not followed. This may lead to more problems for you down the line if the case ends up at an Employment Tribunal.

What is a Grievance?

Grievances are perceived concerns, complaints, or problems that employees raise with their Employer. This can include the perception of discrimination, harassment, or unfair treatment. ACAS recommend that an employee should try to raise a problem at work informally first.  Obviously, if the problem is serious, then an informal chat may not be the best approach.

How to handle a Grievance

If a grievance cannot be dealt with informally or you have exhausted this avenue, then an employee has the right to raise this formally.  Be careful though, as an employee may not make this glaringly obvious in their written communication to you that they are raising a ‘formal grievance’.  I have sadly seen this sort of evidence used against Employers at Employment Tribunals, as they have been considered to fail to take the grievance seriously and follow the correct procedure.  My advice would be if you are unsure speak to an HR expert for guidance.

Follow a formal procedure

Your company should have its own grievance procedure, or at the very least you must follow the ACAS code of practice.  If you do have your own procedure, make sure this is easy to locate for both the Manager and the Employee.  I am a strong advocate for being open and transparent at all times and that is why I store all my policies and procedures on our HR software (oneHR).

I would strongly advise that you follow your process to the letter. Failure to do so will be taken into account if the case reaches an Employment Tribunal.

Raising a grievance

The Employee with the grievance should put it in writing and send it to whoever is most appropriate in your business (Line Manager, HR, Director).  The letter or email should include the following;

  • What the grievance is
  • Any related evidence
  • What they would like the resolution to be

If the employee has not completed the above, but you consider their email or letter to be a grievance, then send them a copy of your Grievance procedure and request that they make the above clearer.

Responding to a formal grievance

It is important that a grievance is investigated and responded to within a reasonable time frame.  The process must be followed in full and fairly.


The employer should investigate the grievance so that they can make a fair decision.  It is important that the investigating officer remains impartial and does not assume anything about the grievance or the people involved.  Being sensitive is paramount for the person the grievance is about and for the person raising the grievance.  The Employer needs to find out more about the problem and if they need to complete a full investigation.  The hearing (see below) would happen after the investigation.

I would not advise that any disciplinary action is taken against anyone in a grievance before getting the full facts and you are confident that your investigation has been thorough.

Often there may be concerns or difficulties with employees working together whilst a grievance is investigated. Consider some short-term options to remedy this problem.


If a crime has been committed (for example an assault), then you may need to contact the police and report the allegation.

The Grievance Hearing

Ideally, the Employer should arrange to hold a ‘hearing’ within 5 days.  This will take place after any investigation.  I always advise that someone different to who will be chairing the Grievance hearing completes the investigation.

The Employee

They have the right to be accompanied to the meeting.  You should clearly define this in your procedure and the employee must choose from the following:

  • A Trade union representative (if they are a member of that Union)
  • A colleague

It is up to the Employer if you are comfortable for the employee to bring someone else. Although I often find a spouse or legal representative will just complicate the process.  The goal is always to try and resolve a grievance and return to a good working relationship.

The employee can bring any evidence about the grievance to discuss at the hearing.

The employee may request to bring witnesses to the hearing.

The Employer

  • Ensure they have the full investigatory report, and the investigating officer is available on the day should you need to clarify anything.
  • Take notes at the hearing or bring a notetaker.
  • Invite any witnesses to the hearing.
  • If a similar grievance has happened before, review and follow the same fair procedure.

Process to follow

The Employer should ask the employee who raised the grievance to:

  • Explain the grievance.
  • Show any evidence they have/provide more information about it.
  • Discuss how it could be resolved.
  • The Employer does not need to decide on the day. If it is complicated, I would strongly advise that they adjourn and take time to consider the evidence etc., and potentially discuss with their HR expert.

At the end of the hearing

  • The Employer should sum up the main points at the end
  • Advise on when a decision will be made
  • Any notes taken should be sent to the employee

Notify the employee of the grievance decision

  • The Employer should tell the employee of the outcome as soon as possible and in writing. 
  • Offer the right of appeal with a time frame attached to submission (I always provide 7 days) and details of who this appeal is to be submitted to.

Right of Appeal

If the employee does not believe the Employer’s outcome has resolved the situation they may Appeal.  It is important to not get caught out in your own procedure here and therefore, ensure you have the right people conducting the investigation and the grievance hearing.  You need to ensure that the person chairing the Appeal would be considered impartial and can overturn the decision made.  For example, if the Managing Director of the business conducts the investigation and chairs the grievance hearing, then a more junior manager would not be considered fair or impartial to be suitable to chair the Appeal.  If you are a small business and run out of people in this process, then you can always request the support of an external HR Consultancy.

Keep a record

Regardless of the outcome, I would always recommend that you keep a record of all grievance cases. However, ensure you only keep it for as long as necessary and in accordance with data privacy guidelines.  I store all such documents on our HR software (oneHR) to ensure they do not get misplaced or in the hands of the wrong person.

How can oneHR help?

We can offer advice and support whilst you handle a grievance to ensure the correct procedure is followed and a fair outcome is delivered. Alternatively, we can conduct grievances on your behalf, giving you peace of mind and allowing you to spend your time focusing on other aspects of your business.

To find out more information or if you require any advice on handling a grievance within your workplace get in contact with our team of experts.

T: 0330 107 1037


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