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How and when to raise a grievance at work

When employees are not happy with something at work it is important to find a solution as quickly as possible. Employees may be annoyed or angry about something and wish to complain. Companies usually have a system whereby complaints are handled, this is called grievance procedure. Companies are relatively free to handle grievance procedure in the way they feel is most appropriate although there are some principles which are certainly sensible to follow.

Raising an issue

It is advisable to raise any grievances on an informal basis with an employer before launching into formal procedure. Often grievances can arrive from simple misunderstandings or miscommunication and these can be resolved easily once realised.

Raising grievances on an informal basis promotes a friendlier and more open atmosphere in which future issues are less likely to arise. Those who are responsible for causing problems can feel less victimised if spoken to in an informal forum and this can aid them changing their behaviour in the future. Respect is very important in the workplace and it is best maintained by stopping short of formal procedures where possible.

What issues are worth raising?

Problems worth raising may include:

  • The terms of an employment contract – it is better to raise any issues with a contract before becoming a party to it but if any aspect later becomes problematic or unfair then it is best to raise it.

  • Wages – it is good practice to review wages on a rolling basis, if for example an employee taken on new responsibilities they may wish to discuss a pay rise to o with them. Issues could also involve how wages are being paid or incorrect tax deductions.

  • Place of work – if the workplace is dirty or unhygienic or lacking in some way then it is best to try to rectify the problem. Issues could include a lack of light, inappropriate facilities to cater for individual needs or a general failure to maintain a property.

  • Working environment – this could include the way co-workers interact. Problems may arise where groups of co-workers are formed on the basis of language, nationality, ethnicity or age. In such situations some employees may feel uncomfortable or even victimised. General bullying in the workplace is also a common reason for raising a grievance.

  • Discrimination – if employees feel they are not receiving the same treatment as other on the basis of their sex, age, ethnicity, sexuality or religion then the issue clearly must be addressed.

  • Deprivation of legal rights – if workers are being deprived of their statutory rights such as maternity leave or sick pay then this should be raised.

How to formally raise a grievance

Some problems may be too serious or sensitive to raise in an informal way, if that is the case then going through proper grievance procedure is advisable. Each company handles grievance procedures in a different way but guidance should be provided to employees as to their specific method.

Employees should be able to find guidance on the appropriate procedure on the company website, in a company handbook, through human resources or in their contract of employment. A code is in place to guide employers in a fair and acceptable way of handling grievance procedure. As a result of the code most employers will include in their procedure a written letter setting out the grievance, a meeting with a manager to discuss it and the right to appeal a decision.

The letter

It is good practice, whether required to or not, to set out a grievance initially in a letter. This should contain the problems experienced along with proposed solutions to rectify the issue. The letter is then solid proof of raising such an issue and a signed and dated copy should be kept by the employee.

The meeting

It is then usual to have a meeting with a manager or boss. Employees should attend this meeting fully prepared to talk about the grievance and willing to look for a solution. Employees should take their letter with them as well as a note of anything else they wish to raise. This avoids leaving the meeting only to remember an important issue that should have been raised. Employees may take someone with them into the meeting, whether that is a friend or trade union representative, this can be very comforting. It is expected that if no resolution in found during the meeting an employer will contact their employee soon after to put forward how they propose to deal with the grievance.

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