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Employers: How to handle Workplace Grievances in 2023

View profile for Chris Dobbs
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Employers: How to handle Workplace Grievance in 2023

According to a recent survey, over the last two years employers have reported a 30% increase in the number of employee grievances.

It is important that grievances are dealt with effectively and efficiently because employee dissatisfaction can lead to low morale, resignations and claims for constructive dismissal.

In his latest article, Employment Solicitor Chris Dobbs provides advice for dealing with employee grievances and details the importance of a grievance policy.

What is a workplace grievance?

Grievances are the formal way in which an employee can express their dissatisfaction either with their work, working environment, or some other aspect of the workplace.

Usually, a member of staff will raise a grievance about either the way in which they have been treated (perhaps due to bullying or discrimination) or about some aspects of their work or conditions.

Most employers will have a process or procedure in place to handle these kinds of internal dispute and it is important for employers to handle them fairly and reasonably.

Related: How to deal with bullying and harassment at work as an employer

What's the difference between a complaint and a grievance?

In effect, very little. The two words are practically synonymous but, in a technical sense, we would generally consider a grievance to be an internal concern raised by a member of staff whereas a complaint is usually raised by a client or customer.

If a member of staff heads up their document as a complaint, however, you should assume that they mean it as a grievance.

What are the grounds for a grievance?

A grievance can be about absolutely anything and an employee could look to raise a formal grievance about any aspect of their work or working conditions.

Most commonly, grievances relate to leaving and harassment, relationships between staff members and their managers, and issues with pay or grading.

That said, it is not unusual for employees to also raise complaints about the way a policy or procedure is followed internally, or a so-called “reactionary grievance” against the way a disciplinary or sickness absence or capability procedure has been followed against them.

Providing the grievance is reasonably founded and to do with something over which the employer actually has the ability to address, the employer will probably have to deal with it in some way.

How do you deal with employee grievances?

Grievances are always difficult because ultimately what the employee wants is very often something that the employer cannot offer.

In the first instance, grievances should be acknowledged and it may be appropriate to approach the employee at this stage to see if there is a less formal way by which their concern can be resolved.

If that is not the case, the employer will have to follow a more formal process to address the issues involved.

Generally, this will involve some kind of investigation process which may involve a formal meeting with the employee in question and others who may be witnesses or in some other way involved in the dispute.

The difficult part

The hardest part of a grievance is often communicating an outcome.

Where the grievance gives rise to separate disciplinary issues, it may be that you are not able to share the outcome fully with the employee who raised the grievance in the first place.

Even where this is not the case, the employee is likely to be asking for something which could not necessarily be offered.

They may be seeking a pay increase, a change in job role, or (surprisingly often) “someone to be fired for this”. It is rare that any of these things can be promised or even offered as part of an internal grievance.

What is the role of a HR manager in grievance handling?

Many businesses do not have a dedicated HR manager and so internal grievances are often left to the individual employee’s line manager or, where the grievance is about the individual’s line manager, to an appropriately separated person within the business.

Their job is to ensure that the grievance is properly and adequately investigated and that the employee receives a meaningful outcome to it within a reasonable time frame.

Investigating a grievance, much like dealing with a disciplinary issue, can be time consuming for the manager and anyone else involved. It is also an emotional time as there will often be a genuine concern from the employee, even where it is not necessarily well founded.

Related: The Dos and Don'ts of Workplace Investigations


Is a grievance policy a legal requirement?

There is no specific piece of legislation which says that an employer must have a grievance policy, per se.

However, the terms and conditions of employment which are regulated by the Employment Rights Act does include reference to how employee concerns and complaints are handled. This should be information that is readily available from the start of employment.

By implication, therefore, it could be said that this requires some kind of grievance procedure or policy.

Mitigating claims

Beyond that, a failure to adequately investigate or handle an employee grievance can ultimately give rise to a claim for constructive dismissal.

Employee grievances are covered by an Acas Code of Practice and an unreasonable failure to meet the minimum standards set out in this guidance gives the tribunal the power to award a 25% uplift on any compensation awarded to the employee for unfair dismissal.

Therefore, even if an employer does not have a formal grievance policy set out in writing, it should at very least follow the guidance set out in the Code of Practice.

A grievance policy is one of the standard documents which we would always recommend an employer has as part of a staff handbook or similar document.

What should a grievance policy contain?

A good grievance policy will make it clear to both employees who may be submitting a grievance and those who may have to manage them what should and should not be done.

The most helpful thing a grievance policy can do is clearly lay out the procedure that will be followed, from any kind of informal intervention through the investigation stage and to how to communicate an outcome.

As with any good policy, a grievance policy should be clear enough that anyone involved in the process will understand the general expectations of the procedure, but also broad enough to allow for flexibility which is often necessary when dealing with internal matters.


It can be helpful to include a standard form of grievance document for employees to submit as well as templates for investigators and decision-makers to use during the process.

Grievance policies can also helpfully set out the kind of outcomes which can be achieved from a grievance process as well as a non-exhaustive list of what the employer may and may not consider issues which can be dealt with by way of a grievance.

Related: How to write strong employment contracts: Advice for Employers

What is a good grievance procedure?

A good grievance procedure would be one which follows both the employer’s internal practices as well as meeting the minimum standards set out by Acas.

Grievances should be dealt with reasonably and fairly both in terms of how they are conducted and the speed with which they are managed.

This means that there should not be unreasonable delays in the process and that the employee’s concerns should be taken seriously and listened to as part of an objective investigation.

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The procedure will likely involve an initial conversation with the employee raising the concern, investigations with others who may be named, involved or able to give evidence, and a coherent outcome setting out the rationale for any decision.

Throughout the course of a grievance procedure, it is always helpful to consider alternative means of resolution and it may be that a grievance can be resolved through more informal means or mediation.

How do you write a grievance policy?

Ideally, you will get a professional to draft one for you! As a minimum, the standard set by Acas should be implemented and they do provide outline policies which smaller employers may find useful.

Template procedures are not ideal for every business and they do not always envisage every circumstance, so it is always a good idea to get tailored advice before implementing a policy or procedure in your workplace.

At Frettens, we can help you with this. You can get in touch below…

Employment & HR Solicitors

Our bright Employment Team has a vast experience in assisting employers to handle workplace grievances and drafting grievance policies.

We’d be happy to advise you on the best way forward for your business and answer any questions you might have.

You can call us on 01202 499255, or fill out the form at the top of this page, for a free initial appointment.

Tailored courses for Employment & HR Professionals

We also offer a range of tailored Employment Training Courses for new and experienced employers and HR professionals, one of which focuses on workplace grievances.

You can find out more here.

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The content of this article, blog or video is not intended as specific legal advice. For tailored assistance, please contact a member of our team.