In a nutshell

A grievance may be raised for a variety of reasons by an employee. For example, they may have issues regarding their terms and conditions of employment; a health and safety issue; new working practices; bullying or harassment.

Bullying and/or harassment may also be dealt with under those separate policies and procedures. Employers should have a written grievance policy and procedure in place that outlines the process by which any employee grievances will be dealt with.

Where a grievance is brought and is upheld (ie the employer agrees with the grievance or part of the grievance), the person whose behaviour or actions are at the root of the grievance may find that the disciplinary procedure is put into action as a result (you can refer to the section on discipline for more on managing this procedure).

Where a vexatious grievance is found to have been brought, the person who brought that grievance may find the disciplinary procedure is put into action for them as a result. This may be where a complaint is unreasonable or the employee is complaining to be difficult and therefore, the employer considers this to be a vexatious grievance. In this instance, it is important for you, as the employer, to ascertain whether the employee is genuinely aggrieved or whether they are being difficult. It is also of note that, should, the employee have made a vexatious complaint in the past, you should not assume they are making a vexatious complaint again.

In both the above cases, a disciplinary sanction may, following an investigation, be put in place.

A grievance should, in the first instance, be dealt with informally. If, however, it is of a more serious nature, the employer may have to move to a formal process which means invoking the grievance procedure.

There must be no bias or discrimination within the process and written records and documentation should be kept throughout the process.

If you do not have the capacity to deal with a grievance issue internally, external providers may be used: these may include HR consultants or lawyers. This may occur where, for example, the grievance is against the managing director or several members of the board.

The process must be fair and transparent and, where the employer does not have a written policy and procedure, it is advisable to follow the Acas Code of Practice. This Code is recognised by the tribunals as the best practice way of handling a grievance situation and can be used alongside the Acas guide 'Discipline and grievances at work'.

Below, you will find an outline of the key steps involved in managing a fair and transparent process.

Key steps to manage this issue

1. If the solution is informal, notify the employee and close the case

A meeting between the employee who has raised the grievance and the employer may conclude that the situation can be dealt with on an informal basis and the appropriate action should be taken. For example, where the employee feels they are being bullied, you may ask them to speak with the person who is allegedly acting inappropriately, explaining to them why it is causing distress, and asking them to stop. This may require you to act as a mediator or, indeed, speak directly to that person explaining the situation and how the other employee feels. Sometimes, people do not realise their behaviour is causing another’s distress and, therefore, an informal discussion with the person or the employer, can be the best solution to highlighting and stopping the behaviour.

2. Establish the facts by investigating

Where an informal solution is not deemed appropriate or where the grievance issues have recommenced following the informal stage, the employer should invoke the grievance procedure. The facts should be established without unreasonable delay through a thorough investigation.

This includes meeting with the employee who has raised the grievance and holding a grievance investigation meeting (see below). A letter of invitation should be sent to that employee and, within that letter and at the meeting, it should be made clear to the employee that the investigatory meeting is just that and is a fact-finding meeting.

The letter should include:

  • The date, time and place for the investigatory meeting.
  • Who will attend.
  • An outline of the employee’s grievance.
  • Their right to be accompanied by a work colleague, trade union representative or an official employed by a trade union (the companion).
  • The option of notification should there be a need to reasonably adjust conditions if they or their companion have a disability.
  • The right to submit further evidence, including a written submission, prior to the meeting.
  • Whether the meeting will be recorded and the employee’s agreement to a recording.
  • Their right to appeal any decision.
  • The requirement for confidentiality and that it should not be discussed with anyone else.

The investigation may also include:

  • Interviewing other employees and taking witness statements. For example, if they have witnessed any ‘banter’ or actual bullying.
  • Other investigatory evidence. For example meeting notes, CCTV footage.

Where the allegations are serious, suspension or paid leave may be considered appropriate for one or other party pending a full investigation. For example, where an allegation is brought against a business owner or Managing Director (MD), it may be that the employee making the allegation is put on paid leave during the investigatory period as it is difficult for them if they are working closely with the MD; or, where an allegation of harassment is made against another member of staff, the employee against whom the allegation is made may be suspended pending a full investigation. This decision will be made depending on the seriousness of the grievance and, hopefully, in the majority of cases is not appropriate.

3. Meet with the employee who has brought the grievance for a grievance investigation meeting

The employee should be given reasonable preparation time and the hearing should be held without unreasonable delay. You should allow the employee to be accompanied.

Attendees will vary depending on the capacity of the company. However, ideally the following should attend:

  • the manager running the investigation and/or meeting
  • an HR representative
  • a note-taker
  • the employee
  • the companion

If you don’t have capacity for these people to attend, it may only be the manager running the meeting and the employee. In this case, the employer, as outlined above, with the employee's permission may record the meeting: the employee should be provided with a copy of the recording and a transcript.

Where the employee is being accompanied, the employee and companion both should make every effort to attend. Where it is not possible for the companion to attend, the employee should inform the employer and the latter should postpone the original date but must ensure that the alternative date is reasonable and not more than five working days after the original date. Where the employee or companion persist in not attending, the employer may make a decision based on the available evidence.

The companion, on behalf of the employee, can address the meeting, sum-up the employee's case, respond on his/her behalf, and confer with the employee. No other person may accompany the employee other than a work colleague or a trade union representative or an official employed by a trade union: should the employee request a family member or friend accompany them, the employer can refuse.

At the meeting:

  • Ensure they have had time to prepare.
  • Explain how the meeting will run.
  • Acknowledge whether the employee is accompanied or not; where it is the former, ensure the companion understands their role.
  • Investigate their grievance. They may have brought more evidence with them or, indeed, call a witness to the meeting. They may request that you interview certain employees and/or previous employees; look at certain CCTV footage; review their terms and conditions.

4. Adjourn the meeting

When all areas have been discussed, adjourn the meeting. The adjournment should provide time to determine whether there should be further investigation. This will include interviewing the person against whom the allegations have been made as well as other staff, external contractors, clients who may have been witnesses. Tell the employee that further consideration needs to be given to all the evidence and that you will be writing to the employee in the next five working days. This timeframe is dependent on your policy and procedure.

5. Decide on appropriate action

Decide on the appropriate action and inform the employee in writing. Consideration must be made of:

  • further investigation (see below)
  • all the evidence
  • the seriousness of the conduct by the other employee consideration where a grievance has been found to be vexatious of the invoking of the disciplinary procedure against the employee who raised the grievance

Having taken all of the above into consideration, you must be able to justify the decision.

6. Further investigation

Where the other employee against whom the allegations have been made is interviewed, you must write to them inviting them to a grievance investigation meeting. The content of the letter should be the same as outlined above, however, they have no right to be accompanied at this investigatory stage. It is important that you hear their side of the allegation. It may, after all, have been a complete misunderstanding.

Notes should be taken or, with their permission, a recording of the meeting. They should be given time to read and agree the meeting notes, sign those notes and retain a copy for themselves. Where a recording has made, they should be sent a copy and a full transcript.

7. Write outlining the findings

Once the decision has been made, you need to write to the following parties:

1. The employee who brought the grievance: write outlining the findings and conclusions and their right to appeal. Where there is more than one allegation, each should be dealt with in turn and an overall conclusion should be given. Any actions should be outlined.

The right to appeal should include:

  • How to appeal – in writing.
  • Who to appeal to – usually the manager who has dealt with the process. He/she will pass the appeal request to another manager dealing with the appeal.
  • How many days in which they have to appeal from the date of the findings letter.
  • The reasons for the employee's appeal.

2. The employee against whom the allegations have been made: write with the overall finding. Where it is found the disciplinary procedure needs to be invoked, please refer to our guidance on this.

3. Others who may have been involved, for example, other staff who were interviewed: Write outlining thanks for their assistance and that the investigation has concluded.

In all three letters, the requirement for on-going confidentiality should be outlined and that the matter is now closed and should not be discussed with anyone.

8. The appeal

Where the employee who brought the grievance appeals, the appeal hearing should be heard without undue delay.

The appeal hearing manager should write to the employee confirming:

  • date, time and place of the hearing
  • who will be in attendance
  • the statutory right to be accompanied
  • the decision made is final and there is no other formal internal recourse

Following the appeal hearing, you should write to the employee with this final decision. There is no further right to appeal. This is usually done within 10 working days of the hearing.

Dealing with the aftermath of a grievance may be difficult. If an informal solution has been found, this is less so than if the formal procedure has been invoked. It is not an easy thing to deal with in the workplace and may leave an unpleasant feeling between people who still have to work together. Staff can be uncomfortable about being interviewed as witnesses and may worry about how this may affect them in terms of how the employer will view them in the future. No employee should be treated any less favourably for having assisted in the grievance process; indeed, they are protected from any form of victimisation that is associated with their assistance.

The bringing of a grievance always needs dealing with in a sensitive and thoughtful manner and it should always be remembered that it is about ensuring all employees in the workplace understand the expected behaviours towards each other, clients and customers.

Tools and resources

Use the grievance policy key elements checklist to help you start to create or update your grievance policy and download the process checklist to help you follow a fair process.

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