Dealing with grievances at work

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

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

  • bullying

  • discrimination at work - for example, you might think your work colleagues are harassing you because of your race, age, disability or sexual orientation

It may be possible to sort out your complaint by simply talking to your employer informally.

Before raising a grievance

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 can’t sort out your complaint this way you might want to raise a formal grievance.

If you end up complaining to an employment tribunal, the tribunal could reduce any compensation they award you if they think it was unreasonable that you didn't raise a grievance first.

How to raise a formal grievance

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 your employer doesn't have a formal procedure, you can follow the Acas Code of Practice.

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.

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.

These steps are based on the guidelines in the Acas 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.

You can use our:

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 your employer if you can bring a colleague from work or a trade union representative 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 your employer if you can bring a colleague from work or a trade union representative to accompany you.

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 use mediation or make a claim to an employment tribunal.

Using mediation

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.

Making an employment tribunal claim

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.

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.

Page last reviewed on 27 September 2019