What to do if there's a problem at work - Citizens Advice Northern Ireland
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What to do if there's a problem at work

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

What can I do if I’m unhappy about something at work?

If you're unhappy about something that your employer or a colleague has said or done, you should always try and talk about it with them. It's a good idea to try to sort out problems early on. If things aren't sorted out quickly you may get angry, and this could cause bigger problems between you and your employer.

Legally, it's also normally better to act quickly. If you don't, any changes to your contract or working conditions could become permanent. If you don't do anything you may be seen to be accepting any changes, even if you protested about them.

It's a good idea to write down your concerns and anything that happens. This will be useful as a record and reminder of the situation.

If you've been dismissed, or your employer starts formal disciplinary action against you, there is a procedure they should follow under a code produced by the Labour Relations Agency (LRA). As part of this, you should be given the chance to defend yourself in a meeting, and to appeal their decision. If you can, you should do this in writing to your employer. You should explain to them why you don't agree with their decision.

For more information about what to do if you've been dismissed or your employer starts disciplinary action against you, see the LRA's Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.

Should I get advice before approaching my employer?

If you can, it's often helpful to get advice so you know where you stand. Your employer may be entitled to do what they're doing and you may not be able to do much to change it. On the other hand, your employer may not be entitled to do what they're doing, and you might be able to use your legal rights to change things.

Can my union help?

If you're a member of a trade union, you should always try to talk about any problems you have at work with your union official. Part of your trade union's role is to help sort out problems individual members have at work. Problems can often be resolved more easily with the help of your union. But if you're unhappy with a decision your union has made for you, then you should get advice elsewhere.

What else can I do?

If talking about things with your employer hasn't worked, you might want to think about another way to sort out the problem. One way of doing this is to put in a grievance. A grievance is a way of more formally raising your concerns, problems or complaints about work with your employer.

How do I put in a grievance?

You can use a grievance to raise anything you're unhappy about with your employer. If your employer has a grievance process or procedure, this might be in your contract or staff handbook if you have one. If you're not sure whether your employer has a grievance procedure, ask them.

You should try to put your complaints in writing, and keep a copy of your grievance and any response from your employer. This may be important if your complaint is not resolved.

If you have difficulty writing down your grievance, an experienced adviser, for example at your local Citizens Advice Bureau, should be able to help you. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Even if your employer doesn't have a written grievance procedure, you can still raise anything you're not happy about with them. This might simply be a meeting with your employer to talk things over. But it is usually still better to put your complaint in writing, give it to your employer and keep a copy. They should usually arrange a meeting with you, and give you the chance to appeal their decision if you don’t agree with it. The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) have a code of good practice for disciplinary and grievance procedures, which your employer should follow.

To find out more about putting in a grievance, see Grievances at work.

To find out more about the LRA, see Labour Relations Agency - guide to services

Do I have to put in a grievance?

Although you may not want to put in a grievance, you should try and sort things out with your employer before going to a tribunal. If there are different stages to the grievance procedure, try, where possible, to go through all of them before taking other action. Compensation may be reduced if you win your case, but didn't put in a grievance before making a claim.

Making a claim to a tribunal should always be seen as a last resort.

Time limits

Most industrial tribunal claims have to be made within three months of the incident. Tribunals only extend the time limit in exceptional circumstances.

Make sure you know what your time limits are and don't miss your chance to put your claim to the tribunal.

What if I can’t solve my problem through the grievance procedure?

Sometimes, it's not possible to solve the problem with your employer through the grievance procedure. You then might want to think about what to do next. You might want to make a claim to a tribunal.

The other pages in this section can help you understand how to make a claim to the industrial or fair employment tribunal.

To find out more about what the next steps are, see Understanding employment tribunals.

You might also want to get some advice about making a complaint to a tribunal.

To find out more about the help that might be available, see What help can I get with a problem at work?

Remember, don’t wait too long before taking action. There are strict time limits for putting in a claim to an industrial or fair employment tribunal. Under the law, you usually have only three months after the event to take action. For example, if something happens on 28 October, your claim has to be received at the employment tribunal by 27 January.

Can I sort out my differences with my employer without going to a tribunal?

If you can't sort out your problems with your employer, but you have a complaint you could take to a tribunal, the LRA might be able to help you sort things out. They have a scheme called pre-claim conciliation. This means that someone from the LRA called a Conciliator, will work with you and your employer to try to work out a solution. The LRA conciliation scheme is impartial, confidential, voluntary and free.

You can find out more information about pre-claim conciliation by contacting the LRA.

Sometimes, the differences between you and your employer are so great that you don't want to carry on working there. Alternatively, your employer may decide to dismiss you.

It's also possible that your employer may offer you some money to stop working there. Often, this will take the form of a settlement agreement. This is a legal document and you should make sure you get advice on it from a solicitor or other qualified employment adviser. By signing the agreement, you agree to the payment and any other terms in return for giving up the right to go to a tribunal.

Next steps

For the next steps in taking action about problems at work, see What help can I get with a problem at work? and Understanding employment tribunals.

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