How does the grievance process work?

Unfortunately there may come in time in an individual’s working life that they have to be involved in a grievance – technically a statement of complaint about a perceived wrongdoing or unfairness; in terms of the workplace this usually translates into a grievance hearing, which listens to the complaint in question.


It’s useful for both employers and employees to know how the grievance process works, particularly if they’re about to be involved in one, but also as a matter of general knowledge about the workings of UK employment rules. Best practice is specified by ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), and although not following the code doesn’t automatically make an employer liable for proceedings, it is taken into account should any issue end up in a tribunal, with tribunals able to award a 25% increase in a reward if an employee is found to have not followed the code.

The code (available for download here) lists 15 points with regards to grievances, and is split up into the following process:

The Grievance Process

The actual nature of the grievance could cover a wide-range of issues, but examples of issues could include:

–          Issues with poor management

–          Changes in working practices or terms and conditions

–          Personal issues with colleagues

–          Health and Safety concerns

–          Discrimination

–          Disagreement with the process of an earlier even e.g. disciplinary


After a grievance has been brought up by a worker, a formal meeting to discuss it should be arranged as soon as possible (within reason), provided an informal agreement can’t be reached. These meetings can be handled by anyone at the company, however involvement at this stage can preclude involvement at any possible later stages for example at a tribunal or appeal. It’s also important to remember that some organisations may not have employees with the expertise or indeed the objectivity required to host a fair grievance, which is where outsourcing may be considered.

When attending a grievance hearing, employees have the right to request the accompaniment of a companion – a request that is very rarely denied except under exceptional circumstances – who can be either a fellow worker, or a trade union official. They can address the hearing to introduce and sum up the case being brought, respond on the employee’s behalf and confer with the employee, however they may not answer for the employee or address the hearing the the employee does not wish them to.

Depending on the nature of the grievance, there are a number of outcomes that could be decided. A decision made in an earlier hearing might be reversed (for example if a disciplinary was found to be unfair), a disciplinary may be brought to a worker involved in the grievance, or an agreement might be reached between colleagues on a certain issue, however the list of possible outcomes is as wide and varied as the possible reasons for a grievance!

If after these processes an employee isn’t satisfied the issue has been resolved, they have a right to appeal the judgement of the grievance to their employer in writing. The same rules apply to an appeal hearing, however it’s commonplace for a different individual to handle the appeal, so as not to jeopardise impartiality.

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