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Setting up a grievance procedure.


Under law, the written terms and conditions of employment (also known as Particulars of Terms of Employment) must describe the organisation's grievance procedure, explaining who an employee should go to if he/she has a grievance. A thorough grievance procedure goes further by providing a process, involving more than one level of management, which both the employer and employee can follow to reach an acceptable conclusion to a problem in the workplace. Settling grievances quickly and fairly means they do not fester and grow

By implementing a grievance procedure correctly, an organisation:

* complies with, and surpasses, the requirements of employment legislation

* can prevent a minor grievance becoming a major problem

* displays a caring approach to its employees, by dealing with issues openly and fairly.

National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership

This checklist has relevance to the following standards: B: Providing direction, unit 8


A grievance procedure provides an employee with a formal structure for presenting and settling a concern, problem or complaint at work. The procedure allows the employer to deal with grievances fairly, consistently and speedily. It defines the types of grievance covered, the individuals responsible at each stage, the presentation and documentation of a grievance, and the time limits by which the grievance must be presented and dealt with at each stage.

Action checklist

1. Be aware of the legal position

Schedule 2 of the Employment Act 2002, which came into force on 1 October 2004 introduced two statutory grievance procedures. These procedures represent a minimum legal standard and should an employee wish to make a claim to an employment tribunal on the basis of a grievance, the three-step, statutory dispute resolution procedure must have been followed.

Step 1--the individual informs the employer of the grievance, in writing.

Step 2--a meeting is held to discuss the grievance, and the employee must take all reasonable steps to attend.

Step 3--an appeal hearing is held, if the employee feels that the grievance hasn't been satisfactorily resolved. The employee is then notified of the final decision.

Employment tribunals may adjust any award for compensation by between 10 per cent and 50 per cent for failure by either party to follow the relevant steps of the statutory procedure.

In cases of collective disagreement (i.e. issues raised by or on behalf of more than one person), there is likely to be a route to addressing these through a separate procedure. There may also be separate procedures for dealing with issues of discrimination, bullying, or harassment. However, for these too, the statutory minimum requirements should be met.

2. Define the terms of reference

Decide which types of grievance the procedure will cover. Identify who the procedure is aimed at (for example, shop-floor workers only or all employees) and the levels of management that will be involved in settling the grievances.

3. Draw up the procedure

Consult with other members of the organisation, including trade union representatives, to devise a procedure. Try to obtain samples of procedures used in other organisations and take account of the latest ACAS Code of Practice. Write the procedure in simple straightforward language so that it is easy to understand.

The procedure should contain the following:

Types of grievance

List the types of grievances covered by the procedure. Refer other types of complaint to the appropriate procedures (e.g. sexual harassment).

The stages involved

Initially the aggrieved party should be encouraged to have an informal meeting with their immediate superior to discuss the problem, and try to resolve it without using the formal procedure. If this does not work, then the first stage of the procedure should be a formal meeting with the aggrieved party and their immediate superior. However, do give an alternative, such as the Human Resource Manager, in case the supervisor is party to the complaint,(although the alternative should not be someone to whom the case may be referred later.) Making the immediate supervisor the first point of contact will avoid undermining their level of authority and there is more chance of resolving the issue quickly and positively. The number of stages of the procedure, at each of which the employee progressively meets with higher levels of management, will depend on many factors, including the size of the organisation. There should be at least two stages, to provide a minimum of one level of appeal and comply with legislation. In a large organisation, there is likely to be one formal hearing stage, and two possible appeal stages. Too many stages can mean the process is lengthy and off-putting. The name, or preferably the job title, of the person responsible for grievances at each level should be given.

In some organisations the final stage might be referral to an external body such as an independent arbitrator or conciliator like the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). However this is not mandatory.

Representation at meetings

Employees have the legal right to be accompanied by a colleague or a trade union official at all disciplinary and grievance hearings. It is good practice to allow the companion to participate as fully as possible in the meeting. He or she may ask questions, address the meeting, or respond to questions on behalf of the employee, so long as the employee wishes. The companion also has the right to confer with the employee during the meeting and sum up his or her case.

Time limits

Realistic time limits should be set (in working days) for the presentation of the complaint and the management response at each stage. Five working days is normally regarded as a reasonable time for responses. This time limit may get longer as the grievance moves up the hierarchy to involve more senior management, since the problem will be of a more serious nature and more time will be required to deal with it. A proviso could be included permitting time limits to be extended by mutual agreement.

Presentation and documentation of a grievance

The initial presentation of a grievance may be made verbally to the immediate supervisor. However if an employee wishes to take the matter

further later, to an employment tribunal, they will need to have put their grievance in writing initially. Therefore it is recommended that the procedure state that the individual put their complaint in writing. Care should be taken to support people whose first language is not English, or who may have problems expressing themselves on paper, or who have a disability that makes this difficult.

For each stage thereafter, a record of information and events, including supporting arguments and evidence, should be kept to pass up to subsequent stages for those not familiar with the grievance. The record should be agreed by the manager concerned and countersigned by the employee and/or his/her representative. This helps to ensure there are no misunderstandings when an agreement on resolving the problem has been reached.

Records should include: nature of the grievance; a copy of the written grievance; the employer's response; actions taken; reasons for actions taken; whether there was an appeal; outcome of any appeal; any subsequent developments.


The way in which the person responsible should prepare for and handle the grievance interview may be included in the procedures, but is often included in separate supporting materials for managers. However the procedures may include brief guidelines for the employee. Factors to be included may be: preparing to state his/her complaint in the meeting; preparing to say how he or she thinks it might be settled; preparing to consider other points of view and work towards an amicable resolution to issues.

Status quo clause

If applicable, arrange a "status quo" clause with the trade unions so that any industrial action will be deferred until a grievance has completed the full procedure.

4. Draw up an implementation timetable.

This should include communications to staff representatives, training for managers, and communication of the go-live date to staff.

5. Provide training for managers and supervisors

Conducting an effective grievance interview is not easy. Training should be given to all managers and supervisors who may have to deal with a grievance. Ensure that they are all aware of the limits of their own and others' authority and that they understand the mechanics of the procedure. For example, make sure that they know the number of working days in which they should reply to a grievance and the documentation they should keep. Giving training to those responsible for holding interviews will help solve problems as close as possible to the point of their origin.

6. Communicate and implement the procedure

Ensure that:

* staff are aware of the procedure. A letter should be sent to all employees along with a copy of the procedure, or a referral to a location where it has been published--on an intranet site, for example.

* there is clarity about when the procedure will come into effect.

* you explain that the procedure has been introduced to benefit employees by providing them with a systematic way of airing grievances, and reaching an amicable agreement as quickly as possible. The same information should be given to new recruits; a copy might be attached to all noticeboards and should be included in the staff manual or handbook.

* staff have a contact who can answer any general questions which may arise and that people with limited comprehension of English can be given enough help to understand the procedure fully.

7. Evaluate the procedure

Regular evaluation of the procedure (after 6 months initially, and then annually, for example) will contribute towards its improvement. The number of grievances and settlements, the subject matter of individual grievances and any levels of management where there seem to be difficulties in handling grievances should be identified. Grievance records can help to analyse trends in causes of grievance. It is essential to check that the procedure has been applied fairly and consistently in all cases.

8. Make changes/modifications

Alterations should be made to combat any of the problems highlighted in the evaluation. This may include offering extra training to certain managers or removing a stage in the procedure. Make sure the names or job titles of managers responsible for grievances at each stage are updated as necessary.

9. Feedback the results

Communicate the success of the procedure to all employees and let them know of any changes to be made.

How not to set up a grievance procedure

Managers should avoid:

* making the initial stages too formal as this may deter individuals from presenting a grievance

* failing to provide training for those involved in settling grievances

* setting unrealistic time limits

* allowing disputes to grow by failing to take steps to resolve the issues.

Additional resources


Discipline and grievance at work

London: Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, 2005

Producing disciplinary and grievance procedures

London: Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, 2004

Disciplinary and grievance procedures: a guide to the new law

London: Labour Research Department, 2004

Statutory discipline and grievance procedures

London: Incomes Data Services, 2004

This is a selection of books available for loan to members from the Management Information Centre. More information at:

Internet resources

DTI Employment Relations. Section on resolving disputes provides information for employers, business advisors and employees.


Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)

Brandon House, 180 Borough High Street, London SE1 1LW

Tel: 08547 474747
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Title Annotation:Checklist 054
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: Human Resources, Training and Development
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Previous Article:Dealing with redundancy.
Next Article:Introducing an equal opportunities policy.

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