Sometimes an employee will have difficulty with their employer or colleagues. The procedure is similar to the disciplinary action an employer can bring but is referred to as a grievance.

Grievances fall into two categories, individual and group. They can be sub-divided into grievances over duties and grievances over proposed change. Good information and consultation processes can help prevent grievances over proposed changes arising (see article 120). In addition, managers should be prepared to listen to the opinions expressed – someone who carries out the work may know a practical reason why the proposed change could present a problem and may be able to offer an alternative solution.

In the case of individual grievances, much of what has been said in the disciplinary section holds true. Employers must give a fair hearing and try to resolve the problem or they could face a claim for constructive dismissal at a tribunal. If an employee raises a grievance during a disciplinary hearing, then the employer may suspend the hearing until the grievance has been dealt with, although if both are closely related it may be more appropriate to deal with them concurrently. An EAT decision in 2015 indicates there is no automatic obligation to suspend disciplinary proceedings when a grievance is raised during them – but this is not a binding decision and each case is likely to depend on its facts.

Under the Acas Code of Practice, the onus is on the employee to get the grievance dealt with informally if possible. If it cannot be resolved informally, then the employee must raise the grievance formally, without delay and with a manager who is not the subject of the grievance. This should be done in writing and should state what the grievance is. If a grievance is against the person who would usually hear grievances, then the Employment Appeal Tribunal has held that a refusal to appoint someone else could amount to constructive dismissal. It is also important that grievances against individuals should be kept confidential.

As with disciplinary hearings and appeals, the employee has the statutory right to be accompanied at grievance hearings and appeals. However, to exercise the right, the employee must make a reasonable request. The Code of Practice says “what is reasonable would depend upon the circumstances of each individual case. As a matter of good practice, in making their choice workers should bear in mind the practicalities of the arrangements. For instance, a worker may choose to be accompanied by a companion who is suitable, willing and available on site rather than someone from a geographically remote location.”

In the case of grievances, the right to be accompanied applies only to hearings that concern the performance of a ‘duty by an employer in relation to a worker’. This means a legal duty arising from statute or common law (e.g. contractual commitments) but does not apply to grievances about proposed changes.

The employee has the right to appeal if they don’t think their grievance has been properly resolved.