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If you have a problem or complaint about work, it may be difficult to know what steps to take. 

For some types of problem, such as changes to working practices or relationship problems with your manager, you'll have a greater chance of resolving it by dealing with it quickly and informally.

A formal grievance may be the right approach if the situation is serious but you should always try and resolve the issue informally first. 

Examples of issues that may lead to a formal grievance include:

  • terms & conditions of employment
  • health & safety
  • work relations
  • bullying & harassment
  • new working practices
  • working environment, or
  • organisational change.

Please note this list is not exhaustive.

Moving things forward

Try to resolve your problem by speaking to the person concerned. If you can’t speak to the person directly, then speak to your manager in confidence or contact us for advice.

Please also consider whether your issue is better dealt with under another procedure - such as incident reporting or raising concerns (about safety issues) or making a bullying complaint.


(Please note: the below relates to England, Wales and Scotland only. If you work in Northern Ireland, please see the nidirect advice on this topic)

The grievance procedure enables you to raise concerns with management about workplace problems. Your employer should have a grievance policy/procedure, so read this to familiarise yourself with the process.

To ensure a fair process is followed, it should have at least three key stages:

  1. the option to resolve the issue informally
  2. the first formal stage, and
  3. the opportunity to appeal the decision

There are strict deadlines to lodge workplace appeals and subsequent employment tribunal claims, so please contact us for advice as soon as possible if you wish to challenge your employer's decision.

In addition to your employer's policy, the ACAS Code of Practice sets out standards of fairness and reasonable behaviour that employers and employees are expected to follow in most situations when dealing with a dispute in the workplace.

But, remember: it is always advisable to try to resolve disputes informally before lodging a formal grievance. 

When to contact us

Many issues in work can be resolved amicably by talking about it to a colleague, or your manager and following the local policies. You can also contact us for advice before raising an issue.

It is important to contact us for advice and support if:

  • the incident is of a highly serious nature (for example, the police are involved)
  • if you are considering making a formal complaint or taking legal action
  • if you are considering resigning.

The general process

The table below explains a typical grievance process but you should also check your employer’s policy for the process that applies where you work.


Step one: try to resolve matters informally


Your employer’s policy should outline the informal methods of dispute resolution available to you. One informal method of resolving a problem is mediation, where an impartial third party helps those in dispute to try to reach an agreement. Mediation has the advantage of enabling both parties to express how they feel about the issue and explore mutually agreed terms to make up the agreement.

Mediation can be used at any stage during the process. ACAS have further guidance on this.

Step two: taking your complaint further


If the issue cannot be resolved informally, consider the following:

  • what do you want to achieve by taking out a formal grievance?
  • is a formal route likely to achieve your desired outcome/result?
  • will the grievance process and decision affect your workplace relationships?
  • would a collective grievance be a more suitable option (if the issue affects more than two employees)?
  • would the content of the grievance and the way the employer responds be useful employment tribunal evidence, for example in discrimination or unfair dismissal claims.

Contact us as soon as possible so that we can help you.

Step three: inform your employer


You will need to follow your local policy and inform your employer of the nature of your grievance in writing. You should include:

  • the grounds (reason) for your grievance, with details
  • the supporting information/evidence
  • the details of any informal action taken, and
  • suggested resolutions and your desired outcome.

Step four: the hearing


Once your grievance has been lodged, your employer should carry out investigations to establish the facts of the case and arrange a formal meeting as soon as possible. This is known as a grievance hearing.

You are entitled to make a reasonable request to be accompanied at this hearing and can take a work colleague or union representative. Please contact us for more advice. Note that for RCN representation, you must have been in the correct category of membership at the time that the issues started.

You should agree the time and place, and make every effort to attend the hearing.

You should be given the opportunity to explain your views and make suggestions for how things could be resolved.

Your employer may need time to consider your evidence, take advice from other parties or investigate further. If this is the case, your employer should agree timescales and arrange a follow up meeting.

Step five: action


Following the investigation and hearing your employer should communicate their decision to you, in writing, as soon as possible.

Step six: appeal


If you decide to appeal the decision, please check your local policy. This should clarify the appeal process and the time limits within which you need to appeal. You would usually be expected to outline the reasons for appeal, in writing, and submit this to your employer within a specified time frame.

The appeal should be heard without 'unreasonable' delay and, where possible, by a manager who was not involved in the original grievance hearing.

If this is not possible, the manager hearing the appeal needs to remain objective and impartial. Following the appeal hearing you should receive the decision in writing and be advised whether the appeal hearing was the final stage of the grievance.

An employment tribunal claim may be an option available to you if you’re unhappy with a decision taken by your employer. It must be a decision that an employment tribunal has jurisdiction to deal with.

Before pursuing an employment tribunal claim, you are legally required to take part in early conciliation, which is a service provided by ACAS.

See our employment tribunals and the courts guidance for information on early conciliation and the how we can help. If you are considering early conciliation, please contact us before taking any further action.

Early conciliation has an impact on the calculation of the deadline for presenting an employment tribunal claim and it is your responsibility to be certain of the deadline for presenting your potential claim.

'Collective' grievances occur when several staff are affected by the same problem. 

If two or more employees raise the same grievance then the provisions of the ACAS code do not apply. Your local policy should determine the process for the collective dispute.

If you are considering a collective dispute alongside your colleagues please contact us for further advice.

You may be called as a witness at a grievance hearing and/or be asked to produce a written statement outlining your involvement in the matter in question.

If you've been asked to attend a hearing as a witness or provide a written statement please see our information for witnesses.

If you raise a grievance during a disciplinary process, the procedure can be temporarily suspended in order to deal with your grievance. If the grievance and disciplinary case are related it may be appropriate to deal with both issues at the same time.

You should not be victimised for lodging a grievance. If your grievance does not resolve your concerns, you may need to decide whether to take further action. Please contact us to discuss your concerns.

If a grievance has been lodged against you as a manager, you should read our advice about investigations then seek advice and support from your HR department. 

When your employer discusses the allegations with you, be ready and able to justify any managerial decisions or actions you took in line with your employer's policies. 

At this initial stage you are not being disciplined. However, if disciplinary action is taken against you at a later stage, the RCN will represent you in most cases and you should contact us to discuss this.

Man with head in hands


Get support with the emotional impact of problems at work through our dedicated counselling service for members.

Statements, investigations and discipline

Establish next steps and how we can help.

Bullying, harassment and stress

Find out how to tackle bullying at work, or deal with accusations of bullying.

Working time, health and safety

Find out more about health and safety at work.

Page last updated - 10/04/2024