Hi ho, hi ho: Resolving Workplace Grievances

Published: 20/04/2016

We spend so much of our time working, it is essential to have a pleasant working environment. So if you have any concerns, problems or complaints in work it is vital you try and resolve it as soon as possible. Here’s the Everyday Legal guide to dealing with grievances at work.

There are many kinds of workplace grievances. The most common grievances tend to include:

  • Being asked to do things which aren’t part of your job
  • Terms and conditions of your contract
  • How you are being treated in work
  • Discrimination.

In the first instance it is always best to try and resolve the issue by talking to your manager or employer on an informal basis. Use this time to explain your concerns and try, where possible, to think of a potential way they could resolve the problem.

If however an informal chat does not fix the problem then you may choose to take the matter further and take out a formal grievance.

Taking out a formal grievance

If you wish to take out a formal grievance it is important you follow the correct procedure. Companies often have their own formal procedure usually found in employee or company handbooks, HR or personnel manuals, on the company’s intranet or within your contract. If, for some reason, there is no formal procedure, you can follow the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) Code of Practice.

You will need to write to your employer, providing details of the problem and any suggestions you have to resolve it. Don’t forget to date the letter and keep a copy.

Your employer should then arrange a meeting to discuss the problem. You can take a colleague or trade union representative with you. You should be given time to explain your grievance. Once the meeting is over, your employer should write to you to inform you what they plan to do.

Appeal an employer’s decision

If you are not satisfied with how the employer handles your complaint then you can lodge an appeal. Write a letter to them stating you wish to appeal their decision and your reasons why. A further meeting should then be arranged to discuss the appeal with a different or more senior manager.

If a resolution is still not reached, you have two options:

  • Mediation
  • Go to an employment tribunal.


If you wish to avoid an employment tribunal you could try mediation. An independent, impartial person will try and help you and your employer reach an acceptable solution. This can be an internal or external mediator. It is important that, whoever they are, you feel comfortable with and believe they will be completely unbiased.

Employment Tribunal Claims

Employment tribunals are often a last resort. Whilst you do not need to have made a formal complaint to your employer beforehand, it tends to look unfavourable if you have not even tried to resolve the problem.

Employment tribunal claims have a very strict, and relatively short, time limit. In most cases you make submit an application to an employment tribunal within three months minus one day of the date when the issue last occurred.

This time limit is not extended if you go through the formal grievance procedure and/or mediation so make sure, if you do explore these avenues first, your employer handles your complaint in a timely manner. If it is taking too long and there is a risk you may miss the deadline then it is advisable to make an application to the employment tribunal.

Early conciliation

You must contact Acas and let them know about your intention to lodge a complaint who will offer you the opportunity for early conciliation. This is a free and confidential process and can help settle the case quicker without having to go to court. You don’t need to go through early conciliation but you cannot present a claim to an employment tribunal before doing so.

If you do agree to early conciliation, the clock is paused on your case. The early conciliation period starts the day after you contacted Acas or completed the online form and can last up to one month plus 14 days.

If the time limit is set to run out during early conciliation, a new time limit will be introduced – one month after receiving your early conciliation certificate.

Making a claim

If a resolution is still not reached it is time to make an employment tribunal claim. Be aware you may have to pay a fee, the cost of which depends on your type of case and personal circumstances. Once you make a claim:

  • Employer needs to give their side of the case, in writing, within 28 days of receiving your claim form
  • The tribunal will then decide if there will a full hearing (you may be asked to go to a preliminary hearing)
  • Arrange documents and organise any witnesses
  • Present your case. You can do this yourself or get someone to do so on your behalf (lawyer, friend or family member).
  • The decision will be sent in the post although in some cases you may be given the decision at the hearing.

Successful claims

If your claim is successful, the tribunal can order your employer to:

  • Pay you compensation
  • Pay any tribunal fees and witness expenses you’ve paid
  • Improve your working conditions
  • Give you your job back, if appropriate.

Unsuccessful claims

If your claim is unsuccessful you can appeal by writing to the tribunal office within 14 days of getting the decision. You will need to provide good reasons why you wish for it to be reconsidered. A fee may incur. If you believe the employment tribunal made a legal mistake you can also appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Content correct at time of publication

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