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Employment Law Advice — Employees

Making a formal complaint at work

Most people will experience a concern about their work, working conditions or a colleague at some point in their working lives.  Handling it properly will mean that it can be resolved quickly, before it escalates.  If you have a problem at work, how should you tackle it?

  • Do you have a grievance?

      A grievance is a problem or concern that you have about your work, working conditions, pay or relationships with colleagues.  For example:


      • you believe that your overtime has been calculated wrongly and you have been underpaid;
      • you feel that your workload is excessive and you are struggling to cope;
      • a colleague is harassing you because of your religion; or
      • following an illness or injury, you would like your employer to provide you with some special equipment that would make it easier for you to do your job.


      All of these are potential grievances, which could be resolved internally without you having to bring an employment tribunal claim.

  • Following the right procedure

      There are two documents you need to be aware of if you have a grievance at work.  The first is your employer’s grievance procedure.  Every employer must have one and it will tell you what you need to do.  It may be included in your contract of employment or staff handbook or it may be a separate document.  If you cannot find it, ask your employer for a copy.  The second document you need to look at is the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.  This gives basic practical guidance on what to do.  If you later bring an employment tribunal claim and you have unreasonably failed to comply with this code, your compensation could be reduced by up to 25 per cent so it is important to follow it.

  • Dealing with it informally or formally

      You should try to resolve your grievance informally first.  This will involve speaking to your line manager, outlining the problem and trying to agree a solution.  If this fails – or your grievance is serious – you should raise it promptly, in writing, with your manager.  If your grievance concerns your line manager, you should write to their manager.

  • Grievance meeting

      Your employer should hold a meeting to allow you to explain your grievance and how you think it should be resolved.  It is important that you attend this meeting and you will need to prepare for it by thinking about the points you wish to make.  You should also consider how you would like your employer to resolve your grievance.  Your suggested solution should be reasonable and workable and you should be prepared to discuss compromises, if your employer is unable to agree your solution.  You should try to stay calm at this meeting and avoid being insulting or abusive.


      The matter may need further investigation, in which case your employer will adjourn the meeting and resume it once the investigation has been completed.  When the meeting is concluded, your employer should write to you setting out the outcome and your right to appeal if you disagree with their decision.


      You have the right to bring a companion to the meeting.  This can be either a fellow worker or a trade union representative.  They can address the hearing to put your case and sum it up, respond on your behalf to any views expressed at the meeting and confer with you during the hearing.  They cannot answer questions on your behalf.

  • Appealing against the decision

      If you are not happy with the decision, you should write to your employer stating that you wish to appeal and explain why.  Your employer should then hold an appeal hearing, preferably conducted by a manager who has not previously been involved in the matter, and your employer will notify you of the outcome.  You can take a companion to this meeting too.

  • What to do if the grievance is still not resolved

      Your employer’s grievance procedure may include a further right of appeal, in which case you need to follow it.  It may also include some form of mediation, which could help to resolve your dispute.  Once you have reached the end of your employer’s grievance procedure, you will have to decide whether to accept their decision.  If you are still unhappy, the next stage will be to consider issuing an employment tribunal claim.  You should take independent legal advice on whether you have a potential claim. Your solicitor will outline the timescale for making a claim, the amount of compensation you might recover and the likely costs.

  • Conclusion

      Whilst you should always try to resolve any problem at work before it becomes serious, this can be difficult.  If you have a grievance with your employer and need some help to deal with it, or your grievance has not been resolved satisfactorily and you are considering bringing a claim, please contact us for advice.

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