Grievance procedures

Grievances are concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise with their employer. There is no legally binding process that you or your employer must follow when raising or handling a grievance at work. However, there are some principles you and your employer should observe.

Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures

The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures (the Code) sets out principles that you and your employer should follow to achieve a reasonable standard of behaviour in handling grievances.

How to raise a grievance at work

Try talking with your employer informally before raising a formal grievance, to see if that helps.

If you tried to resolve your grievance informally and this approach did not work, you should raise the matter formally. You should do this using your employer's formal procedures for grievances (if your employer doesn't have a formal procedure the LRA Code of Practice provides the necessary guidance).

Your employer should put their grievance procedures in writing. You should be able to find these in one of the following:

  • company handbook
  • human resources (HR) or personnel manual
  • HR intranet site
  • employment contract

At the very least your employer must give you in writing the name of the person that you can apply to, to seek redress (put the matter right).

To comply with the Code, your employer's grievance procedure is likely to include the following steps:

  • writing a letter to your employer setting out the details of your grievance
  • a meeting with your employer to discuss the issue
  • the ability to appeal your employer's decision

Writing to your employer

As soon as you believe you have a grievance, you should write to your employer giving them details of your grievance.

You may find it helpful to say in your letter how you would like your employer to resolve the problem. You should make sure your letter is dated and that you keep a copy.

Meeting with your employer

Your employer should arrange an initial meeting at a reasonable time and place to discuss your grievance. You should make every effort to attend the meeting.

Gather your thoughts before the meeting. Don't be afraid to write down what you want to say, there is nothing wrong with reading this out at the meeting.

It is up to your employer to decide how the meeting will run. They will normally go through the issues that have been raised and give you the opportunity to comment. The main purpose of the meeting should be to:

  • establish the facts
  • find a way to resolve the problem

If at the meeting it appears that further investigation is needed, your employer should consider pausing the meeting and arrange to finish it at a later date.

You have a statutory (legal) right to take a companion to the meeting with you. To exercise this right, you must make a request to your employer that someone comes with you. Your companion may be:

  • a colleague
  • a lay trade union official who is properly certified
  • a trade union official

If you don't have access to any of the above, ask if you can bring someone else. Your employer does not have to agree to this unless your employment contract says that they must. However, it can still be worth asking and explaining why you feel it would be helpful.

The companion can:

  • present and/or sum up your case
  • speak on your behalf
  • speak to you during the hearing

However, your companion cannot answer questions on your behalf. They are protected from unfair dismissal or other mistreatment for supporting you.

After the meeting your employer should, without unreasonable delay, write to you with their decision. They should set out, where appropriate, what action they intend to take to resolve the grievance.

Appealing a workplace grievance procedure

If you have raised a workplace grievance and your employer has reached a decision that you are not satisfied with, or you think the procedure was flawed, you should be able to appeal the decision.

You must make your appeal in writing without unreasonable delay. Your employer should give you enough time to appeal - the deadline for the appeal should be set out in your employer's written procedures. If they do not give any information on this, make your appeal anyway and say that you will provide more information later.

Make an effort to follow your employer's procedures. If you end up making a claim to an Industrial Tribunal or Fair Employment Tribunal, it will consider this when it makes its judgment.

In your written appeal to your employer state why you are appealing their decision, clearly explaining why you don’t agree with it. Your employer should then arrange a further meeting with you to discuss your appeal. Where possible, a different and more senior manager should deal with your appeal.

The appeal hearing is run similarly to the original meeting and you have a right to bring a companion, as before. After the appeal meeting, your employer should write to tell you their final decision.

Explore alternatives ways to resolve your grievance

If you are still not happy with your employer’s decision, you may want to consider other ways of resolving your grievance.

Where attempts to resolve the problem by other means do not work, or are not appropriate, you could consider making a claim to an Industrial Tribunal or Fair Employment Tribunal.

From 27 January 2020, before making a claim with the Industrial Tribunal or  Fair Employment Tribunal, you must first notify the LRA and discuss the option of early conciliation. Tribunals will take the LRA Code into account when considering claims.

An Industrial Tribunal or Fair Employment Tribunal will not automatically find you or your employer liable (legally at fault) if these principles are not followed.

However, any unreasonable failure to follow the Code by either you or your employer could lead to an adjustment of the amount you are awarded. If a tribunal upholds your claim, your award could be adjusted by up to 50 per cent.

Protection when raising a grievance

You should not be dismissed or disadvantaged for raising a genuine grievance about one of your statutory employment rights, such as discrimination. For example, your career prospects shouldn’t be negatively affected.

The law also protects you from losing your job and/or being victimised if you are making a disclosure in the public interest or 'blowing the whistle'.

Where to get help

The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues for residents of Northern Ireland.

Advice NI can provide free and impartial advice. 

If you are a member of a trade union you can get help, advice and support from them.

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