This advice applies to Northern Ireland. Change country
Dealing with grievances at work
Who this information is for
This information is for employees who have a complaint about their work or workplace or about someone they work with.
Not all workers are employees. You may not be an employee if you are:
- an agency worker
- a homeworker
For more information about agency workers, see Agency workers' rights.
For more information about homeworkers and self-employed, go to the NI Direct website at www.nidirect.gov.uk
If you're not an employee, or you're not sure whether you're an employee, you will need to get advice before using this information. You can get advice from one of the organisations listed under Further help.
You should only use this information if the problem you want to complain about happened on or after 6 April 2009.
You should not use this information if the problem you're complaining about started before 6 April 2009, even if the problem is still going on. This is because the rules are different for problems which started before 6 April 2009. If you are in this situation, you should get advice from one of the organisations listed under Further help.
What is a grievance
If you have a concern, problem or complaint at work, you might want to take this up with your employer. This is called raising a grievance. You might want to raise a grievance about things like:
- things you are being asked to do as part of your job
- the terms and conditions of your employment contract, for example, your pay
- the way you’re being treated at work, for example, if you're not given a promotion when you think you should be
- discrimination at work. For example, you might think your work colleagues are bullying you because you because of your race, age, disability or sexuality.
It may be possible to sort out your complaint by simply talking to your employer informally.
However, it's not always possible to sort out your complaint in this way and you may want to take out a formal grievance. You don't have to take out a formal grievance. However, if you end up making a complaint to an employment tribunal, the tribunal may reduce any compensation they award you if you didn't raise a grievance first.
Sorting out your problem informally
Often the best way to sort out a problem with your employer is to talk to them informally.
You should ask for a meeting with your immediate manager to explain your concerns. You might find it helpful to suggest to your employer what you would like them to do to resolve the problem. If you don’t feel you can talk to your immediate manager, you could speak to someone else in the organisation in a position of authority.
Where possible, you should always try and sort the problem out informally first before taking any further action.
If you do decide to take out a formal grievance, there is a Labour Relations Agency (LRA) Code of Practice which it is advisable to follow.
The Code of Practice sets out standards of fairness and reasonable behaviour that employers and employees are expected to follow in most situations when dealing with a dispute.
You don't have to follow the Code of Practice. However, an employment tribunal can take account of whether or not it was reasonable for you to follow the Code when they decide how much compensation you should get, if any.
Your employer should also have a formal procedure for raising a grievance. You should try to follow this, where possible. You should be able to find details of your employer's grievance procedure in your Company Handbook, HR or Personnel manual, on your HR intranet site or in your contract of employment.
If you do end up making a claim to an employment tribunal, there is a strict time limit within which you'll need to make your claim. This is usually three months minus one day from the date that the thing you are complaining about last happened.
The time limit still applies even if you're taking out a grievance. This means you need to make sure that you don't run out of time while going through the grievance procedure.
If you take out a grievance, it's always a good idea to keep a note of exactly what happens and when.
The steps described on the following pages are based on the guidelines in the LRA Code of Practice.
Write to your employer
If you haven't been able to sort out your problem by talking directly to your manager, the next thing to do is write to your employer. Give details of your problem, date your letter and keep a copy. If you have not done so already, you might find it helpful to tell your employer any suggestions you have for resolving the problem.
Meet with your employer
Your employer should arrange an initial meeting at a reasonable time and place to discuss your grievance. You have a right to ask either a colleague from work or a trade union representative to accompany you to the meeting. Your employer should give you the opportunity to explain your grievance and any suggestions you may have for resolving it. After the meeting, your employer should write to you, telling you what they have decided to do about your grievance.
Appeal to your employer
If you don't agree with your employer’s decision, you should write a letter of appeal to them:
- saying that you are appealing against their decision, and
- explaining why you don't agree with it.
Your employer should arrange a further meeting to discuss your appeal. Where possible, a different and more senior manager should deal with this appeal.
You have a right to ask either a colleague from work or a trade union representative to accompany you to the appeal meeting. After this appeal meeting, the employer should write to you to tell you their final decision.
If you're still not happy with your employer’s decision, you may want to think about other ways of sorting out your problems with your employer.
Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to:
- go to mediation
- try early conciliation
- make a claim to an employment tribunal. You must do this within the time limit.
Outline of the grievance process
There is a flowchart outlining the grievance process.
You or your employer might want to consider mediation as a way to resolve the problem. Mediation is completely voluntary and confidential. It involves an independent, impartial person helping you and your employer to reach a solution that is acceptable to everyone. Sometimes the mediator may come from within your organisation or your employer may want to consider bringing in an external mediator.
External mediation services are not free although if both you and your employer agree to use mediation, it will usually be your employer who pays.
You may feel that you have tried everything possible to sort out your problems with your employer and now the only option you have left is to make a claim to an employment tribunal.
If you're in this situation, you may be able to use the Pre-Claim conciliation service run by the Labour Relations Agency. This service may be able to help you and your employer find a way of settling the problem without the need for an employment tribunal claim.
This is a free service available to all employers and employees for issues that are likely to lead to an employment tribunal claim.
To find out whether Pre-Claim conciliation is suitable for you, contact the Labour Relations Agency.
The Labour Relations Agency Arbitration Scheme
Arbitration involves an independent and impartial person called an arbitrator (acting alone or chairing a panel) being appointed by the Labour Relations Agency to make a decision on a dispute. This decision is based on the evidence presented by the parties to that dispute.
Arbitration is entirely voluntary. All parties to the dispute must agree to go to arbitration. The parties should also agree in advance that they will abide by the arbitrator’s decision.
For further information contact the LRA on 028 9032 1442 or visit the website www.lra.org.uk
If you have tried everything to sort out your problems at work and got nowhere, you may want to consider making an employment tribunal claim.
Employment tribunals sort out disagreements between employers and employees.
You should always try and sort out your problem without going to an employment tribunal, if at all possible.
You don't have to raise a formal grievance before making a claim to an employment tribunal. However, if you don't raise a grievance first, the tribunal may reduce the amount of any compensation they award you, unless you had a good reason for not raising a grievance first, such as needing to get your claim in before the time limit ran out.
Remember that in most cases you must make an application to an employment tribunal which is three months minus one day of the date when the event you are complaining about last happened. If your application is received after this time limit, the tribunal will not usually accept it.
If you're worried about how the time limits apply to you, take advice from one of the organisations listed under Further help.
Employment tribunals are less formal than some other courts, but it is still a legal process and you will need to give evidence under an oath or affirmation.
Most people find making a claim to an employment tribunal challenging. If you are thinking about making a claim to an employment tribunal, you should get help straight away from one of the organisations listed under Further help.
For more information about making a claim to an employment tribunal, go to the NI Direct website at: www.nidirect.gov.uk
The Labour Relations Agency
The Labour Relations Agency works with both employers and employees to solve workplace problems.
You can phone the Labour Relations Agency helpline on: 028 9032 1442 and speak to an adviser about your employment problems. The helpline is open 9am-5pm Monday to Friday.
The Labour Relations Agency website at www.lra.org.uk has lots of useful information about how to sort out work-place problems. This includes the Labour Relations Agency Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures which all employers and employees should follow when they are trying to sort out problems at work. To download a copy of the Code, go to: www.lra.org.uk
Citizens Advice Bureaux
Citizens Advice Bureaux give free, confidential, impartial and independent advice to help you solve problems. To find your nearest CAB, including those that give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB. You can also look under C in the phone book.
If you're a trade union member, contact your union representative.
You can also get useful information and advice on the TUC's website at: www.worksmart.org.uk.