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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.

Sometimes the gravity of the situation will mean that a formal grievance is the right approach – and we talk more about the process below - but you should always try and resolve the issue informally first.

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/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 involving your working conditions or relationships with colleagues.

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 (please note: 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. 

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.

Step two: taking your complaint further


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

  • what 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 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/procedures and inform your employer of the nature of your grievance, in writing. You should include:

  • the grievance grounds and details
  • the supporting information/evidence
  • the details of any informal action taken
  • 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.

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. The employer may need time to consider your evidence, take advice from other parties or investigate further. If this is the case, the 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.

If you are considering Early Conciliation please contact us before taking any further action.

An Employment Tribunal claim may be an avenue available to you if you’re unhappy with a decision taken by your employer and it is 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. If you submit an Employment Tribunal claim without having undertaken Early Conciliation your claim will be rejected.

Early conciliation can help resolve various workplace disputes including:-

  • Unfair Dismissal
  • Discrimination complaints
  • Redundancy payment disputes
  • Deductions from wages and unpaid holiday/notice pay claims
  • Time off difficulties
  • Equal Pay

If our Legal Services department believes that your potential Employment Tribunal claim has more than reasonable prospects of success, they will represent you during the Early Conciliation process. However, if we believe that your potential claim does not have more than reasonable prospects of success, we will not be able to provide you with legal representation and you will have to undertake Early Conciliation personally or instruct alternative solicitors at your own cost.

If you trigger the Early Conciliation process prior to seeking our advice, we will review the merits of your potential complaint and confirm whether it meets our criteria for support. You must not name the RCN as your representative for Early Conciliation without our knowledge and consent.

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 a number of 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 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 firstly seek advice and support from your HR department, after reading our advice about investigations

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.

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.

Page last updated - 30/05/2022