Dealing with a problem at work
If you have a problem at work, there are ways you can try to solve it.
What’s best for your situation will depend on things like what the problem is, how serious it is, how your employer has dealt with similar complaints before, and how successful you think a particular step might be.
The options outlined here go from the informal to the formal. You don’t have to go through them in order and can start at any of them.
If you think it could be discrimination
If you’ve been discriminated against, you might be able to take action - check if your problem at work is discrimination.
You can get free advice from your nearest Citizens Advice. It will help if you can bring:
- your note of what happened and what you want
- your contract of employment or a copy of your employer’s policy on dealing with problems at work
- copies of any emails you’ve had about your complaint or a note of any conversations you’ve had about it
Preparing what you want to say
Before you talk to your employer, you should think carefully about what you want to say.
Write down what your employer has done that you’re unhappy about - that will help you to remember everything you want to say.
Gather together anything relating to your complaint - like the date and time of the incident, any conversations you’ve had about it since then and any emails or letters you can find that relate to your problem.
This can help you clarify exactly what your complaint is, and make it easier to discuss when you need to.
You should also think about what you want your employer to do about it.
You might find it helpful to talk to friends, colleagues or your union rep (if you’re a member of a trade union). They might be able to tell you how a similar problem was dealt with.
Talking to your employer
Talk to your line manager, or someone else if you’d prefer - for example, someone from the HR department or another manager. Arrange a meeting with them so you won’t be disturbed.
You can ask if someone can go to the meeting with you if you don’t feel able to go on your own. This could be a friend, colleague or your union rep. Your employer doesn’t have to agree to this, though.
At the meeting, tell your employer what you’re unhappy about and ask them about the reasons for their actions.
Tell them what you think should happen and show them any evidence you have to support your position. For example, if you didn’t get holiday pay, show them what your contract says about this and your payslips.
Keep a note of what was said at the meeting, particularly of any action your employer agrees to take. If you have someone with you at the meeting, they could take the notes for you. If your employer agrees to do something, make sure they set a date for doing it so that you can chase them if necessary.
Your notes will help if you have to take the matter further. For example, you’ll be able to use them as evidence if you raise a grievance or go to a tribunal.
Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you’re not sure what to say to your employer.
Writing to your employer
If talking doesn’t solve the problem, you can send an informal letter or email to your line manager, a more senior manager or your HR department.
If you don’t think this will work, you can go straight to a formal grievance.
Mention what’s happened, including what you’ve already done to try to resolve the problem and how your employer can solve the problem.
Include copies of any evidence, such as emails or letters from your manager.
Raising a grievance
If your letter doesn’t get the response you’re hoping for, or you want the problem dealt with more formally or it’s more serious, you could raise a grievance.
Check if your employer has a grievance procedure. It might be on their website or in a staff handbook, or ask for a copy. You might prefer to follow their steps if they have a clear complaints procedure.
You don’t have to raise a grievance, but if you win a tribunal case your compensation could be reduced if you didn’t without good reason.
Your grievance letter should mention what’s happened, including what you’ve already tried to do to solve the problem - for example if you’ve spoken to HR or sent a letter to your employer.
The manager who deals with your grievance should be impartial - this means they won’t have been involved with what’s happened so far. They could be more senior - like your manager’s manager - or from a different department, like HR.
Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you need help with your grievance.
Going to a tribunal or making a settlement
If you can’t resolve your problem by speaking to your employer or raising a grievance, you can:
- go to an employment tribunal - you’ll need to do early conciliation first
- make a settlement agreement
You must start early conciliation within 3 months less 1 day of what you’re complaining about, so don’t let a grievance drag on. If you’re getting close to the deadline, start early conciliation even if your grievance hasn’t been resolved yet.