If you feel you're not being treated fairly or if you have any other issue or complaint at work, the correct way to deal with it is to raise a grievance.

Larger organisations usually have systems that help you make complaints. But if you work for a smaller company, you may find there aren't clear systems in place. Either way, it can be useful to know what you should do if such a situation were to arise.

There are many issues you may want to take up with your employer. You may want to complain about something you've been asked to do as part of your job, for instance, or discuss an issue concerning the terms and conditions of your employment contract. Perhaps you feel you've been unfairly treated when it comes to a promotion, or you may believe you're experiencing discrimination as a result of your race, age, sexuality or disability. 

Step 1: raising an informal grievance

It's commonly accepted that the first thing you should do if you have a grievance at work is to talk to your employer, manager or another person in a position of authority to see if the problem can be resolved informally.

According to ACAS - whose Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures is recommended to both managers and employees in the UK - many issues can be raised and settled during the course of everyday working relationships, which also allows for problems to be settled quickly.

Step 2: making your grievance formal

If you've tried raising an informal grievance but your issue hasn't been resolved, you may decide to make things formal. If you raise a formal grievance it's advisable to follow the ACAS code, which sets out standards of fairness and reasonable behaviour for employees and employers. If you don't follow the code and your grievance ends up being a matter for an employment tribunal, it could reduce any compensation you may receive by up to 25%. 

According to the code, you must follow these steps when making a formal grievance:

  1. You must let your employer know the nature of the grievance
  2. Your employer will need to investigate the grievance appropriately
  3. Your employer should invite you to at least 1 meeting to discuss the matter and try to resolve the issues
  4. Your employer must allow you to be accompanied to the meeting by a trade union representative or work colleague
  5. Your employer must notify you of what they decide is the necessary outcome
  6. You must be allowed to appeal if the grievance is not resolved to your satisfaction

Meanwhile if your organisation does have a formal procedure for raising a grievance, you should also try to follow it, where possible. To find details of your company's grievance procedure, check your employment contract, company handbook, HR manual or HR intranet site.

Following the code: putting your grievance in writing

First, outline your grievance in a formal letter to your employer. Give as many details as possible, including the nature of the issue, plus where and when any relevant incidents happened.

Make sure your letter is dated, and keep a copy for yourself (also keep notes of everything that happens regarding your grievance and when). Citizens Advice has a template letter for dealing with a work grievance that you may find useful.

Getting your grievance heard

After receiving your letter your employer should arrange an initial meeting with you to discuss your grievance (according to the ACAS code, the meeting should be held within 5 working days). You can take a colleague or trade union representative to the meeting, where you should be allowed to explain your grievance and offer any suggestions you may have to resolve it to your satisfaction.

Once the meeting is over you should be told when you may expect to receive a decision - if you work for a small company, the ACAS code recommends this should be within 24 hours. Any decision your employer comes to should be given to you in writing.

If you don't agree with the decision, the next step is to write a letter of appeal to your employer, stating that you're appealing against their decision and why. Another meeting should follow, this time to discuss your appeal. Again you have the right to be accompanied by a companion at the meeting. Your employer's final decision will be given to you in writing following the appeal meeting.

If you're not happy with this decision, there may be other ways to sort out your issue. Some larger organisations, for instance, may allow you to appeal again to a higher level of management, such as a director. But if this isn't possible your options include using mediation - where an independent and impartial individual helps both parties reach an acceptable solution - or by making a claim to an employment tribunal (for more information, read our article Making a claim to an employment tribunal).

How CABA can help

You can find more information on grievance procedure in our legal factsheet, Grievance procedure at work provided by LawExpress.

If you're a past or present ICAEW member, or a member of their families and have experienced issues at work - including grievance procedures, disciplinary or redundancy - we can help.

By calling our legal helpline, provided by LawExpress, you can get the professional advice you need, not just on employment issues but other things too, including family, consumer law, property, tax and more.

To arrange to speak to one of our expert legal advisors, call +44 (0)1788 556 366 (UK only). We also have a range of online legal fact sheets on employment that you may find useful.

Last updated: April 2018