How to resolve a problem at work

If you have a problem at work find out about the different ways, both informal and formal, that you could try to sort things out. Before taking action try to work out what the problem is and make sure it isn't a simple mistake or understanding.

Try to sort it out informally first

Problems with your employer will probably come under one of two categories, grievances or disciplinaries.

Grievances

These are concerns, problems or complaints that you raise with your employer. For example, concerns you have about:

  • your job
  • your employment terms and conditions
  • your contractual or statutory rights
  • the way you are being treated at work

If you believe there is a real problem, explain your concern to your immediate manager to see if you can sort it out informally. You may find it helpful to suggest what you would like them to do to resolve your problem.

Disciplinaries

Your employer might have concerns about your conduct, your absence from work or the way you are doing your job.

If they raise these concerns informally with you or as part of a performance review, it is generally best to try to agree a solution then. Otherwise these issues could lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal in more serious cases.

Where to get help

If you have tried to sort the problem informally, you should seek advice before taking matters further.

The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers pre-claim conciliation and free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment issues.

Call the LRA Helpline on 028 9032 1442 (Monday to Friday from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm).

If you are a trade union member, you can contact your trade union representative for advice and support on employment issues.

Citizens Advice Northern Ireland can provide free and impartial advice.

Making a grievance complaint or starting disciplinary action

If the informal approach with your employer has not worked, you could consider raising the matter with your employer as a grievance.

Equally your employer might start a disciplinary procedure which could lead to disciplinary action and potentially dismissal in more serious cases.

The Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures (Labour Relations Agency website) sets out the principles you and your employer should follow to achieve a reasonable standard of behaviour when trying to resolve grievance and disciplinary cases.

Third party help to sort out problems at work

If you and your employer can't solve the problem yourselves, it could help to bring in someone from outside your work area to help reach an agreement. This could be through:

  • mediation or conciliation, where an independent and impartial person works with you and your employer to try and help you reach a solution you are both happy with
  • arbitration, where you and your employer use an impartial, third party to make a decision
  • Workplace disputes

Agreeing a solution with your employer

You and your employer may be able to agree on a way to resolve the problem. If so, you may simply wish to record in writing what you have each agreed to do and when you will do it.

However, you or your employer may want the outcome to include a legally binding agreement. This is an agreement to give up your right to make or continue a tribunal claim about the issues involved. You will only be able to do this through one of the following agreements:

  • a conciliated settlement, entered into after a Labour Relations Agency conciliator has been involved in helping you reach the settlement
  • a compromise agreement, which involves you receiving independent advice from an appropriately qualified person, for example a suitably qualified lawyer, trade union officer or voluntary advice service worker

Remember resolving your problem in the workplace will save you significant time and stress and help to maintain good working relations.

Arbitration Tribunals and Civil Courts

If you cannot resolve your problem in the workplace, you may have the right to make a claim to an Industrial Tribunal or Fair Employment Tribunal.

Before doing so, you should consider seeking advice from the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) or other advisory service. They may be able to give you advice on the nature of your claim and the possible outcome, and will also be able to explain the Industrial Tribunal or Fair Employment Tribunal process.

They may also suggest that you and your employer agree to use the LRA’s statutory arbitration scheme, which is a voluntary alternative to an Industrial Tribunal or Fair Employment Tribunal.

A tribunal is like a court that deals with employment rights disputes. County Courts also deal with some employment-related issues, like breaches of contract.

If you are considering making a claim to a tribunal, bear in mind that it can be stressful. There may also be some costs involved.

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