How to Manage Grievances:
A Step-By-Step Guide for Employers

Detailed guidance on the grievance process and every aspect of grievances that you should consider when managing grievances

A few weeks ago we wrote a blog post about the mistakes companies can make when handling an employee grievance.  We thought it might be useful to step back a little and create a step-by-step guide on what an employer should do if they receive a grievance.

Grievances can be tricky to navigate as emotions are typically running high and at least one party is usually feeling frustrated and angry.  By following a robust grievance process, you maximise the chances of a successful resolution to an employee grievance.

Managing grievances is a complicated process to navigate and, whilst we hope you find the information in this post useful, it’s important to note that this guide does not constitute professional advice and may not cover everything that you could encounter during a grievance process.

Grievances can be complicated and employees are typically very challenging throughout the process.  Therefore, we advise you seek professional support before embarking on a grievance process of any size.

Process for Managing Grievances

The diagram below sets out the key steps in a grievance process.

Click / tap on each step for more information.

Step 1 – Check Your Grievance Policy

Your organisation should have a published grievance policy and, if you receive a grievance, you should remind yourself the process the policy says you’ll follow and then make sure you follow those steps.

If your company does not have a grievance policy then you need to follow the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures

For the rest of this post, we’ll be assuming that your grievance policy is aligned to the requirements set out in the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.  However, if your policy states that you will do something that does not get mentioned in the coming steps, then you should follow the policy if that policy takes you beyond the requirements set out by Acas. 

If your policy is less favourable than the requirements set out by Acas then you need to update your policy and follow the Acas recommendations.

Step 2 – Acknowledge the Grievance

It’s important that you acknowledge receipt of the grievance quickly. Ideally, within 24 hours, you should confirm to the employee that you’ve received their email and detail what will be happening next.

When the employee hits send on their message, they will be very distracted until such time as they know you have received it. The longer they await a response from you, the more angry and frustrated they are likely to become. A quick reply demonstrates that you are treating their complaint with urgency.

Step 3 – Appoint Someone to Deal With the Grievance

Your grievance policy is likely to confirm who will deal with grievances.  It may be a line manager, a director or someone else.  When you receive the grievance, review the content and determine who will be most appropriate to deal with the matter.  If you policy states that a line manager will deal with grievances but the grievance is about the line manager then this clearly isn’t going to work. 

When considering who will hear a grievance, think about:

  • Is there a conflict of interest?
    • Any individual named in the grievance should not be involved in the hearing or investigation. 
      • Any individual who may be a witness in the grievance investigation should not be involved. 
  • Who has the skills to manage the grievance? 
    • Managing a grievance can be tricky so the individual assigned to the case needs to have the right skills to deal with the matter properly. 
    • They need to be unbiased, thorough, and able to manage difficult conversations. 
  • Who has the seniority to manage the grievance? 
    • The individual assigned to managing the case needs to be senior enough to make recommendations and have those recommendations listened to. 
    • In addition, the employee needs to feel the company is taking the matter seriously and appointing someone senior to deal with the issues supports this.
  • Who will deal with any appeal? 
    • You need to remember that an employee will have a right to appeal so you need to think about who would be available to hear an appeal should one arise. 
    • In the ideal world, the individual dealing with the appeal will be more senior than the individual who heard the initial case. 
    • Note: If you use your most senior employee to hear the grievance then you may struggle when it comes to an appeal.

If you find that you cannot identify anyone internally to deal with the grievance, you can instruct someone external.  This could be a Non-executive Director or you can engage with an HR consultancy to support your grievance process.

Step 4 – Arrange the Grievance Hearing

Having decided who is going to deal with the employee grievance, the next step is to arrange a hearing.  Your grievance policy will likely set out the timeframe in which the grievance should be heard. 

The Acas code states that grievances should be heard without “unreasonable delay”.  Typically, you will see a policy confirming that the hearing will take place within 5 days of the grievance being received.

The approach to arranging the hearing is that you should write and invite the employee to a meeting and remind them of their right to be accompanied

You should set out the date and time of the hearing.  If the employee responds requesting an alternate date and time then you should do all that you can to accommodate their request.

Step 5 – Conduct the Grievance Hearing

The next step is to conduct the hearing.  The hearing is the employee’s opportunity to explain their grievance to you and for you to seek further information or clarification. 

It’s important to note that the purpose of the hearing is not to resolve the grievance – you should be expecting to walk away from the meeting with everyone agreeing on the next steps.  You are simply hearing what the employee has to say.

During the hearing, you should reframe from expressing any opinion and focus only on gathering facts. 

Along with asking the employee to set out their grievance, you should also ask them what their ideal resolution would be and also whether there are other people they would like you to speak with regarding their issues.

Step 6 – Investigate the Grievance

It may not always be necessary to carry out an investigation and whether this step is necessary will depend entirely on the nature of the grievance.

Having heard and understood the grievance, you can determine what additional information you need and whether you need to speak to more people before deciding on the best way forward. This is what you’ll do during the investigation.

Do be thorough in your investigation and take the time to gather relevant information and witness statements.

If you feel that, following your investigation you need additional information from the employee who submitted the grievance, you can always invite them to a follow-up meeting (again giving them the right to be accompanied)

Step 7 – Decide the Grievance Outcome

Having heard the grievance and conducted an investigation, you need to provide the outcome. The options open to you are to uphold the grievance in full, uphold the grievance in part or dismiss the grievance.

Where you uphold the grievance in full or part, you also need to make recommendations as to how the grievance should be resolved. It isn’t possible to give detail on what grievance resolutions can be as they are varied and will depend entirely on the situation. Ultimately, if you are agreeing in part or in full with the employee then you need to consider what would make the situation better for that employee.

You should provide a detailed outcome letter to the employee and again, your policy may give the timeframe in which you should do this. If your policy is silent on this point then the Acas guideline is that the outcome should be given “without unreasonable delay”. The length of time it will take to issue an outcome will depend on how much investigation is required and the availability of any additional witnesses. Make sure you set expectations with the employee as to when they should expect to hear from you.

In the outcome letter you will advise the individual of their right to appeal and what process they need to follow if they decide to exercise that right.

Step 8 – Hear Any Appeal Against the Outcome of the Grievance

Of course, you hope that the original hearing and process will resolve the grievance to the employee’s satisfaction but, if it does not, then the employee does have the right to appeal.

An employee can raise a grievance appeal if

  • they feel that the outcome was wrong,
  • that the process followed was wrong or unfair, or
  • if they feel there is additional evidence that was not taken into consideration. 

Strictly speaking, an employee cannot raise an appeal just because they don’t like the grievance outcome.  However, our guidance would always be to hear any appeal raised.  The reason for this is that giving an employee the right to appeal is a key element of the Acas Code of Practice.  If you find yourself in front of an employment tribunal judge, then the judge will determine whether the appeal was valid and should have been heard.  If they conclude that it was and the employee wins their overall claim, then any award can be uplifted by 25% if the Acas Code of Practice was not followed.  In short, you are better to hear any appeal than run the risk of being criticised for failing to do so at a later date.

When it comes to managing an appeal, you need to allocate an appropriate person to manage the appeal and ideally, this will be someone who was not involved in the initial hearing.  The appointed individual will also be someone more senior than the original grievance manager.

Once the appeal is concluded, that’s the end of your internal process. 

Step 9 – Follow Up With the Employee

If you have upheld the grievance in full or part and made recommendations regarding how the situation can be resolved, do make sure that you follow through on those recommendations.

Whilst there’s no legal requirement to do so, it can be a good idea to schedule for a meeting for 4 – 6 weeks after you issue the outcome to check in with the employee whether the issue has been resolved.

Grievances can be complicated.

There are so many technicalities and potential pitfalls in a grievance process that this isn’t an area that you should try to navigate alone.

Add into this, an employee who has raised a grievance may be very challenging throughout the process.

We really do advise you to seek professional support before embarking on a grievance process of any size.

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