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Handling grievances

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Sometimes employees are unhappy about something at work. Employers should treat concerns and grievance seriously and promptly – they normally don’t go away on their own!

You should always follow your organisation’s grievance procedure, which should meet the requirements of the Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures (pdf, 168KB). 

Grievance procedure

It is important to have a written grievance procedure. The procedure should explain how to resolve concerns informally as well as the steps in a formal procedure.

You can find a sample grievance procedure in the Acas guide to discipline and grievances at work (pdf, 693KB).

NCVO members can download an editable template procedure.

Early and informal resolution

Complaints and concerns are best dealt with informally and quickly. In most cases there will be no need to proceed to the formal grievance procedure.

Depending on the situation, it may be appropriate to confirm any agreed actions in writing and to follow up in a few weeks, to ensure that the matter of concern remains resolved.

Frequently, concerns are based on conflict between employees. The Acas guide to managing conflict at work (pdf, 1MB) gives practical advice on what to do. You can also refer to Acas resources on mediation.

See also NCVO Knowhow resources on dealing with conflict at work.

Formal grievance resolution

If informal resolution has not solved the matter, or if the employee wants their complaint handled formally, you will need to proceed to a formal grievance process. You can find advice, guidance and template letters in the Acas guide to discipline and grievances at work.

A formal grievance process has the following steps:

  • The employee should put their grievance in writing, explaining the problem and what resolution they are seeking.
  • The employer should convene a meeting with the employee to discuss the grievance and how to resolve it.
  • After the meeting and after any further investigation that may be required, the employer should give a written outcome to the employee.
  • If the employee is not satisfied, they may submit a written appeal, normally within a specified timeframe, to a more senior manager or trustee.
  • An appeal meeting is then held. The outcome of that appeal meeting is final.
  • At both the grievance meeting and the appeal meeting, the employee has a legal right to be accompanied by a workplace colleague or trade union representative.

Handling a grievance meeting – checklist

  • Introduce the parties and explain the purpose of the meeting.
  • Remind the employee and their companion that the matter should be kept confidential.
  • Ask the employee to state their grievance. It is useful at this stage to ask the employee the outcome they’re looking for from the grievance. Sometimes, an employee is aggrieved about something, but hasn’t thought about what they would like done. Asking this question early on can help clarify thinking.
  • Ask questions about the issue, to gain a full understanding.
  • Check the employee feels they have had the opportunity to state their case fully.
  • Do not at this stage give your view – you are simply gathering information.
  • Adjourn the meeting to consider the matter in private, taking advice from a senior colleague, trustee or external human resources specialist if needed. 
  • Undertake further investigation if needed.
  • Come to a decision and confirm the decision in writing.
  • Provide the employee with the notes of the meeting.
  • Offer the employee the right of appeal in your letter communicating the decision.
  • Arrange for a different person to hear the appeal, if an appeal is raised.

Further information

Page last edited Apr 04, 2019

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