Advanced People Management

Employee Rights: The Grievance Procedure

Grievances (What they don’t tell you)

Grievances are a dispute resolution process that you only use when you think the contract of employment has been violated.


The grievance procedure exists for one reason only; to enforce the contract of employment and to the hold the company to account, not an individual. If the behaviour that is bothering you is not a contract violation, then it is not a grievance. That doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do about it, (read on) but filing a grievance will not help and may even damage you at work, so be careful, very careful with grievances.

The first thing to do is to determine whether a grievance exists.  Most employees’ rights are contained in the contract of employment (remember the four types of terms, statutory, implied, express and incorporated and remember the contract of employment is the actual written contract, the employee or staff handbook, any long-term working practices and any company letters or documents related to the employment relationship). This is the first place you look to see if there is a real grievance against the company, (key words: against the company).  If the grievance is a clear-cut violation of the contract, you should be alright.

So for example and we use a common problem that HR managers come across all the time. An employee e-mails the HR manager and states ‘that they wish to implement the official grievance procedure because they do not like the way their supervisor talks to them. The supervisor talks down to them, belittles them, is rude to them and leaves them feeling upset’. OK! Is this a grievance? Well, yes and no! We need to go back to our old friend the contract of employment. If in the contract of employment or in the staff handbook or any other part of the contract it states something along the lines of: ‘we as an organisation expect all members of staff to treat each other with the utmost of respect and dignity at work, and if this does not happen we will bla, bla, bla’! Well now it becomes a grievance because the company (not the individual) is in breach of the contract of employment. If however you have no such policies then it is not a grievance, it is then a complaint against the individual, in this example the supervisor. Got it, a grievance is used when the company has done something wrong; a complaint is what you use when you feel an individual has done something wrong. Obviously a company treats a grievance more seriously than a complaint; a company is legally obliged to investigate a legitimate grievance, but not so for a complaint.

Ok so you hate us now, our apologies for getting technical with you, but remember our job in the first instance is to protect you and not to damage you at work, so be very careful how you use the grievance procedure, but yes it is complicated, acknowledged, just don’t do anything that gets yourself into trouble at work with the bosses, get in touch with us for a chat before getting drunk and firing off an inappropriate e-mail to the HR department at 1 am and then panicking and calling us at 9 am (it happens, believe us, it happens)! But call us if you want, we will get you out of the mess, that’s our job.

The bottom line; do not just jump in head first and put a grievance in, think about. So what types of issues are genuine grievances (loads, this is not an exhaustive list)?

  • Health and Safety at work or other working conditions (heat, cold, dirty, dusty, for example).
  • Discrimination, harassment and bullying.
  • Wages issues, including not getting paid the right amount, not getting wage slips, deductions, other than the normal ones, not getting the bonus you were promised, not getting overtime when others do.
  • Supervisory or managerial practices (not attitudes) such as, abuse of authority, discrimination, intimidation, bullying, harassment, favouritism.

Remember anything else that breaches the contract of employment. It could be anything, so for example if in any part of a contract it states, ‘as employees of this organisation, we will take you all home, once a month, on the back of a double-humped camel’, then if they do not do this, then that is a grievance, because it is a breach of contract. It was promised and then not delivered.

When not to put a grievance in, but complain if you want to (one off events, such as),

  • The person sitting next to me smells
  • The person on reception said my belly looked big in this t-shirt and I was offended
  • I did not like the way the Team Leader got everyone else to do the easy tasks and asked me and my friend to do the hard work
  • The manager was a bit off with me earlier but was really nice to my colleague

However if you are subject to the above type of treatment on a regular basis, (not a one off event) say, day-in, day-out, all the time, over a period of days, weeks and months, then that is an issue and it needs to stop because it is either discrimination, harassment or bullying, then that is a grievance, that is when you arrange for a chat with us. Your employer is both legally and contractually obliged to prevent discrimination, harassment and bullying in the workplace. Also, remember this golden rule, at work you have to be treated equitably and consistently. All the rules, working arrangements, policies and procedures have to be applied equally among the workforce regardless of position. If you feel you are being separated for special treatment by anyone at work, contact us.

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This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of Advanced People Management as a whole. You should never take any action based solely on the information contained in the blog posts.