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Content contributed by Roots HR CIC

Content contributed by Roots HR CIC

How to resolve workplace disputes

Disputes in the workplace can be distressing, time consuming and a distraction from purpose. Furthermore, if these disputes go unresolved, they can potentially result in resignations and even legal action.

It is recognised that disputes are in every case best addressed informally and as early as possible, by the immediate parties involved.

This how-to guide offers five key steps you need to take, supporting two parties to resolve a dispute and move on.

Things you'll need

  • Any company policies that may relate to the situation
  • Clarity on any budget that may be available for professional mediation, settlement agreements etc
  • The authority to take action on behalf of the employer, at an appropriate level in the organisation
  • An open mind with no bias, prejudice or previous experience of the matter
  • In the absence of relevant company policies or to provide further guidance, refer to the appropriate ACAS Code of Practice*.
  • * Please note that compliance with a Code of Practice is not a statutory requirement. However, Employment Tribunals are legally required to take the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures into account when considering relevant cases. Furthermore, they can adjust any awards made in relevant cases by up to 25% for unreasonable failure to comply with any provisions of the Code. Employers will therefore usually follow relevant ACAS Codes of Practice and ensure that any internal policies comply with these as a minimum.

Informal resolution

Assuming no formal written grievance or complaint has been submitted, encourage the parties to meet informally to discuss their differences. It may be helpful to suggest some basic ground rules for the parties such as a time length for the meeting or no raised voices.

There is no formal right to be accompanied but if one party requests it and the proposed companion is acceptable to the other party and will agree to keep the matter confidential, then this would ordinarily be permitted.

This step can also be attempted if a formal written grievance or complaint has been received. If successful, the party who submitted the grievance can simply write to retract it. This does not preclude them from resubmitting it in the future in the event the problem recurs.


Review company policies

If the informal meeting doesn't resolve the matter and the dispute continues, review any relevant company policies for guidance on next steps and to determine the way forward.

Consideration should be given to whether or not the parties can continue to work together while the process is underway and, if not, to make alternative arrangements.

Explain the chosen course of action and the anticipated timeline to both parties. In the event of resistance, the parties can be asked how they would prefer matters to proceed; ultimately though this is the employer’s choice and whilst the process must meet legal requirements, the willingness of the parties to engage and their confidence in the potential outcome will be important.


Attempt mediation

If the dispute is one which may be resolved by mediation and both parties are willing to attempt this and budget permits, any formal processes may be paused to allow mediation to take place.

A trained mediator (often sourced externally) will “contract” with the parties to agree rules of engagement for mediation and will facilitate a confidential meeting between them, providing a safe environment in which they can explore options for resolution. In the event mediation is successful, the parties will draw up a short agreement between themselves. It is usually agreed that the outcome is only shared with parties outside of the mediation session on a need-to-know basis. 


Formal grievance

If mediation is not an option or if it is attempted and unsuccessful, the employer will need to follow the formal process determined in Step 2.

A formal grievance process will always involve a meeting with the aggrieved employee to hear the complaint and a written outcome from the employer setting out their response. In most cases, an investigation will also be required. The employee may request to be accompanied to the meeting by a trade union representative or a work colleague or another person if the company’s policy permits this.

The meeting and investigation should be carried out by someone with no previous in-depth involvement in the matter. The chair should agree confidentiality with all parties. A written record of the meeting should be kept in the form of summary notes. The chair and investigator can be the same person but in complex or sensitive cases, an organisation will often appoint an external investigating officer. The person who chaired the meeting will receive the investigation report from the investigating officer and will write to provide the response to the employee. 



The right of appeal should be offered as part of the response to the employee. If possible this should be to a person more senior than the manager or officer who chaired the meeting.

If the employee exercises the right to appeal, it should be viewed as an opportunity for them to state the grounds on which they cannot accept the response to their grievance or complaint and for a further neutral party to review this on behalf of the employer. 

Further information

There is no further internal recourse once the process is exhausted and management can reasonably expect the parties to accept and move on, alongside implementation of any actions from the outcome of the process.

Records of formal meetings should be stored in line with any internal document retention policies and relevant data protection legislation.

Sometimes however, if relationships are untenable going forward, the employer may negotiate termination of employment via a settlement agreement for one or both of those involved.

For a strategic approach to understanding and managing conflict at work in its widest context, see the ACAS advisory booklet on Managing Conflict at Work. Alternatively, you can also access their full range of publications on their website.

Roots HR CIC offers a full range of dispute resolution services, including advice on handling grievances, responding to allegations of bullying and harassment, undertaking investigations, providing advice in formal hearings, notetaking, or chairing on behalf of the employer and negotiating, drafting and administering settlement agreements. Contact Roots HR CIC on or on 01562 840060.


Page last edited Jan 29, 2018 History

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