Employment Knowhow: Grievances

An employee may raise a grievance with their employer for numerous reasons. They may be unhappy with a change to their terms and conditions, or have a health and safety concern or feel bullied by a colleague. While both parties might hope to resolve the employee’s concern or complaint informally, this is simply not always possible. In such cases, the employee can choose to raise a formal grievance.

There is no prescribed statutory grievance procedure which all employers must follow. Instead the ACAS Code of Practice gives practical guidance to employers on how to handle grievances from individual employees. An employer’s failure to follow this guidance does not, in itself, provide an employee with grounds for a tribunal claim. However, tribunals are legally required to take the Code of Practice into account where an employee’s grievance is relevant to a claim, and may uplift the compensation awarded to an employee who brings a successful tribunal claim by up to 25% if there has been a material failure by the employer to deal with a grievance in line with the ACAS Code.  

Employers should have a written grievance procedure in place which follows the ACAS guidance and includes these steps:

Formal hearing

On receipt of a grievance, the employer should schedule a formal meeting with the employee to hear their grievance without unreasonable delay. The employer should consider carefully who should conduct this hearing in light of the nature of the allegations made – being mindful that a more senior employee would normally be expected to hear a subsequent appeal. The hearing is an opportunity for the employee to explain their grievance and propose a solution. Employees have the right to be accompanied at the hearing by a workplace colleague or a trade union representative.


As part of a fair process, it will be necessary to conduct a reasonable investigation into the grievance. For example, if an employee says that a colleague is bullying them, the employer may need to interview that colleague, to get their side of the story. Investigation may be done before or after the grievance hearing, as appropriate.

A written outcome

Following the hearing, the employer needs to decide what action, if any, to take. The employer will then need to write to the employee to confirm whether it has upheld the grievance and if so, how it intends to resolve the situation. Again, this should be done within a reasonable timeframe.


When the employer confirms the outcome of the employee’s grievance they must notify the employee that they have the right of appeal. If the employee exercises his/her right of appeal, the employer should again schedule an appeal hearing without unreasonable delay and give the employee the opportunity to be accompanied at the appeal hearing, as above. The appeal should be heard by a more senior manager than the one who dealt with the original grievance.

Grievances during disciplinary processes

If an employee raises a grievance during a disciplinary process, there is no requirement that the employer should halt the disciplinary process to hear the grievance. In cases where the grievance is closely connected to the disciplinary process, it may be more appropriate to address the issues together in any event. This needs to be approached on a case by case basis, however, depending on the nature of the grievance that has been raised.

This page was updated on the 1st August 2018.

This information is necessarily of a general nature and doesn’t constitute legal advice. This is not a substitute for formal legal advice, given in the context of full information under an engagement with Bates Wells.

All content on this page is correct as of October 24, 2018.