Bringing forward a grievance to your employer

Throughout your career there might come a time when it is necessary to raise a grievance with your employer.

The purpose of submitting a grievance claim is to professionally resolve a dispute between an employee and employer, or fellow employee.

This includes contractual disputes such as working hours, equal pay, access to employment development, absence of disability access, etc.

Or even matters such as sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination, and any action which makes you feel uncomfortable, unwanted, or discriminated against in the workplace.

But submitting a claim and following the process through can be quite daunting, emotionally draining, and confusing.

Where do you begin to submit a claim, what processes do I use, is this the best option, what is my employer turns nasty, and finally, what even is a grievance in the first place?

Well our team has put together a short guide on the definition of a grievance, best practises for preparing for a grievance claim, and information on where to turn if you need professional assistance.

Remember to enter grievance proceedings with a clear objective or solution at hand.

Remember to enter grievance proceedings with a clear objective or solution at hand.

What is a grievance?

A grievance is a claim you can bring forward in the workplace stating that you are being treated unfairly or discriminated against to your employer.

It is usually the start of a process where you will be seeking to get an individual(s) held accountable for their actions against you, with the expectation that their behaviour will change in the future otherwise they’ll be reprimanded depending on the severity of the grievance.

Submitting a grievance is important for a number of reasons, one you are ensuring that your right to employment is being respected, and submitting a grievance allows for a record to be kept of the problem at hand occurring, which can be useful if the grievance needs to be processed externally.

In the following sections we’ll outline the process of submitting a grievance, the difference between informal and formal grievances, and your options if you are unsatisfied with the outcome of the grievance process.

The process of submitting a grievance begins by identifying the problem; you need to be clear about why you are unhappy at work, or the reason for complaining to your employer. 

The first stage of dealing with a grievance is to speak to your manager.  This is called the informal stage.  All you have to do is talk about the problems you are experiencing in work and explain why you are unhappy.  In many cases, talking over the problem will resolve the problem.

 However, if it is not possible to speak about the issues informally, then the next step is to place your grievance (your complaint) in writing.  This starts the formal grievance procedure; informs the employer of the problem and the resolution you are seeking to that problem.  The employer should then hold a meeting with you and may take some time to investigate.  Thereafter, you will receive a reply to your letter of complaint which may or may not satisfy you that the issues are now resolved.  Thereafter, if you remain unhappy, you can take an appeal (sometimes called a reconsideration).  However, once the appeal is complete, and a final determination issued, the process stops and there is nothing else you can do internally with your employer. 

The majority of grievances are processed and handled informally in-house. But, in other cases if you believe you didn’t achieve the desired outcome from your grievance you can bring it before an employment tribunal to seek resolution.  However, please note that there is usually a three-month window of opportunity to lodge a complaint with the employment tribunal.  The window begins after the last of an act that gave rise to complaint, or the last set of actions (when looked at collectively) which caused you to complain.  The complaint before the employment tribunal must fall within the jurisdiction of the employment tribunal to be heard.  Unfortunately, we cannot go into detail here regarding jurisdiction – it is a complex area of law – so we recommend that you seek independent legal advice. 

Each party in the grievance process has the right to prepare accordingly and respond to the claim at hand.

Each party in the grievance process has the right to prepare accordingly and respond to the claim at hand.

Here are our top tips for raising a grievance with your employer:

1.    Establish the facts and outline the nature of the problem

Firstly, establish the facts and nature of the problem, where does the problem originate, how is it impacting your ability to perform your job, what supporting documents or evidence will you need and what do you believe is an appropriate action to resolve the grievance.   

For example, if an individual is harassing you or discriminating against you, it is important to identify why it is making you uncomfortable (are their comments racial or sexual), how this is influencing your ability to work (feeling degraded at your job), and any records of the problem occurring.

This will change from case to case, but being diligent, and retaining all the information relating to the case is essential as we will explain in the next step.

2.    Identify the solution to the problem – know what you are asking for.

Many people forget this important step.  We are all very good at stating where we see a problem, but often forget to outline our proposed solution to that problem.  It is important to remember that your employer cannot fix something is they do not know what you want.  For example, if you are complaining about your pay, then you are likely asking for a pay rise.

 If you are complaining about harassment or discrimination, you are likely asking for the behaviour to stop, maybe for some disciplinary action to be taken, or for someone to be given additional training concerning your personal dignity at work.  It is impossible to provide a full list of potential outcomes here, but it is important that you think about this. 

In your discussions with an employer make it clear to them what you want as an outcome and suggest a solution to achieving that outcome if possible. 

3.    Collect evidence

Secondly, collecting evidence which supports your claim, this can include emails, text messages and potentially the testimony of a fellow employee who has witnessed the incident in question.

This can be difficult depending on the nature of the grievance, the length of time the problem has been occurring, and if the evidence is in writing or simple anecdotal.

Information or evidence that our firm suggests getting include ~

·         Information on comparative job roles or job descriptions

·         Differentials in rates of pay, employee benefits or perks

·         Statements of support from fellow employees or other colleagues in work

·         Medical evidence to support a request for reasonable adjustments

·         Digital communications, copies of emails, or written examples of discrimination or harassment


This is by no means a complete list.  Think about what evidence is useful and supports your case.  Also think about how you can demonstrate the problem to your employer and support your proposed resolution or desired outcome. 

4.    Discuss the grievance with your employer

Thirdly, preparing yourself and presenting the claim to your employer. This can be done in writing as a formal letter or by requesting a meeting with your employer in person.

Depending on your circumstance one will be more appropriate or preferred, but remember, this doesn’t mean you can’t do both if you want to present your evidence in that manner.

The method you choose will probable depend on the business model of your employer, with larger organisations integrating formal grievance processes through the HR department, while smaller businesses will usually urge employees to submit claims through a more informal method.  

In writing it is important to start off addressing the primary problem including dates and times on where the problem has occurred, and a list of reasons justifying why this needs to be addressed with urgency. Once this is done, date and sign the letter, and retain a single copy of the letter for yourself for future reference.

If doing so in person, it’s good to remember that you can invite a legal representative or member of your trade union to accompany you for support. Remember during the meeting to remain calm, respect the other parties right to reply, and demonstrate a wiliness to resolve the grievance in a respectful manner.

5.    Decide on an appropriate action

Following the meeting, your employer should decide on an appropriate action (if any) to resolve the grievance.

This should be done without unreasonable delay, and outline in writing the actions that will be taken, where action isn’t taken the specific reasons for this decision, and the employee’s right to an appeal.

It is worth noting that where the decided action involves a fellow employee, or will effect the workplace in a notable manner, than it can be expected that other employees in the workplace will be informed of the grievance and actions that is being taken (to a reasonable extent).

6.    Submit an appeal if you feel the grievance hasn’t been resolved

Hope for the best, plan for the worst. In the scenario that your employer either fights back against your grievance or you believe it hasn’t been resolved in the appropriate manner it is possible to appeal your employer’s decision and should only be done once step three has failed.

This involves writing to your employer to tell them that you disagree with the decision and will be taking if further either through professional mediation or by bringing your claim to an employment tribunal.

Both processes require time but will allow you to present evidence to a third-party regarding your grievance who will provide an impartial assessment of the situation.  

If the situation is indeed serious enough to bring the claim to a third-party it is recommended to acquire assistance from organisations such as ACAS or Citizens Advice for free legal advice.

However, if you believe that in your case you require a dedicated and specialised legal representative than please get in contact with our firm and someone from our team will be on hand to take your details and being the process of fighting for your rights.  

The majority of claims will be resolved in-house, but, if this isn’t the case you can bring forward an appeal externally.

The majority of claims will be resolved in-house, but, if this isn’t the case you can bring forward an appeal externally.

Daniel Donaldson