Resolving problems at work

If you are having a problem at work we can help. In most cases, problems at work can be resolved by talking. If not, the proper way to raise an issue at work is through a grievance.

Grievances: an introduction

You can raise a grievance with your employer when you have concerns about any aspect of your working life. You can also use the grievance process to raise issues relating to the terms and conditions of your employment. You should always try to resolve disputes informally before raising a formal grievance and a number of grievance procedures allow for this as the first stage of the process.

Grievances typically cover the following areas:

  • pay and working conditions;
  • terms of employment and workplace rules;
  • disagreements with co-workers;
  • allegations of unfair treatment at work.

The procedure for raising a grievance

Here is a typical example of a grievance process in action, your own employer should have its own grievance policy and procedure:

In the first instance, you should speak to your supervisor or line manager about your grievance informally.

If you are unsatisfied with their response, or don’t receive any response within a reasonable amount of time, consider whether you should report your grievance to a senior manager. Contact the branch office and we can help you with this.

If you speak to a senior manager and are still unsatisfied with their response, or you don’t receive one, you can raise a formal grievance in writing.

Once you submit your grievance, an investigatory meeting or other action may start to investigate your complaint. Depending on your employer’s policy you might be able to take a trade union rep with you to any meetings, although at this stage there is no right to do so.

Once the investigation is over, a grievance hearing should be held to consider the case. You have the right to attend the grievance hearing with a trade union rep.

After considering the issues the employer will make a decision to uphold your grievance or not and confirm the outcome to you in writing.

If your grievance is not upheld you may wish to appeal against the decision.

The Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures provides guidance on how employers should address grievances. Employers that recognise trade unions will probably go further than the minimum requirements set down by Acas, for example by allowing you to have a trade union rep attend informal and investigatory meetings.

Read the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures here

Before raising a grievance, find out what your employer’s grievance procedure is – and make sure you follow it. Every employer should have a written grievance procedure which may be found in the:

  • company handbook;
  • human resources (HR) or personnel manual;
  • the organisation’s intranet;
  • employment contract.

If you want to raise a grievance, you should speak to us first. We will help you follow the grievance procedure and we can attend meetings with you and assist you in preparing for the grievance hearing.

Other ways to resolve the dispute

If your grievance cannot be resolved under the grievance procedures, alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation, might be available to help the parties resolve their disputes. Speak to your employer to find out if such methods are used within your organisation.

If you cannot resolve the dispute by using the grievance procedures and alternative forms of dispute resolution you may need to consider whether your underlying issue forms the basis of an employment tribunal claim.

Remember that there are very tight deadlines within which you must lodge your case, normally 3 months less one day from the act of discrimination. This is why it is really important you contact us as soon as you have a problem at work.

What happens during a grievance hearing?

A grievance hearing is a meeting which deals with grievances raised by employees.

You have a legal right to take someone to the meeting with you under the Employment Relations Act 1999. To do so, you must make a request to your employer. The accompanying person could be:

  • a colleague;
  • your local UNISON rep;
  • a UNISON branch officer.

The companion can help you present your case or speak on your behalf, but they cannot answer questions addressed to you directly.

There is a relationship between claims made in the employment tribunal and the use of grievance procedures. If a claimant is successful in the employment tribunal and the tribunal decide to award compensation, the tribunal may reduce any compensation awarded if the claimant didn’t first make use of the grievance procedures. This is an important issue for you to bear in mind if you are considering whether to take the matter further.

Guidance and law on grievances

Acas has produced a code of guidance on disciplinary procedures for employers, employees and workers setting out minimum standards for dealing with grievances.

Read the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures here

You don’t have to follow this code but if you take your case to an employment tribunal, the final decision will consider whether or not the code has been followed when deciding how much compensation to award.

It is important to consider the code’s guiding principles in your situation and also any grievance procedures used by your employer, if you are considering whether to file an employment tribunal claim. We will be able to advise you further and specific advice should always be sought before proceeding.

Not a member?

If you are having problems at work, you shouldn’t have to go through it alone. We can help, but only if you are a member.

Join UNISON today and get essential cover

Please note, in common with all trade unions we have a qualifying period of membership and cannot help you with problems that pre-date your membership and (in most cases) issues that arise within the first four-weeks of your membership.

Don’t wait until you have a problem, join us today.


Resolving issues at work

  • Can I lose my job if I raise a greivance?

    You should not be dismissed for simply raising a grievance. Raising a grievance in accordance with your employer’s policy or the Acas code is perfectly legitimate and you should not be treated differently for doing so.

    Speak to your UNISON rep or the branch office for advice based on the specific details of your case if you feel that you may be disadvantaged in some way due to raising a grievance.

  • Can I take someone with me to a grievance meeting?

    Yes. Under the Acas code you are allowed to take a union rep or a work colleague with you to any formal meeting to consider your grievance.

    If your employer formally recognises UNISON then their policy will probably also allow you to be accompanied at informal meetings and investigation meetings too.

  • I am self-employed (or a contractor), can I raise a grievance against my client?

    No. Only employees or workers can raise a grievance against their employer. You may have other options depending on what your contract says.