Grievances are problems, complaints or concerns that employees raise with their employer. They can relate to range of issues and if an employee raises a grievance, the employer is required to take the matter seriously and to try and resolve the issue, or risk the complaint escalating further, potentially into a tribunal claim.
It is best practice for employers to have a formal grievance procedure in place to allow employees to make formal complaints, and for the grievance to be managed fairly and lawfully.
Types of grievance at work
Grievances can relate to a wide range of issues, but they often fall into a number of common themes.
Compensation and benefits
The grievance could be as simple as wanting a higher salary – based on the amount of time they have worked with the company, their performance of duties, the salary other employees are earning, or even industry benchmarks. Employees may also raise a grievance related to the payment of overtime or expenses.
In other cases, employees may believe they are not receiving benefits they are entitled to. Again, this may relate to benefits they were promised, those received by others in the business or those in similar employment.
Putting in place a robust pay and benefits policy and regularly reviewing it with staff can help to minimise these types of grievances. If you find employees are regularly raising pay and benefit grievances you may want to create a compensation plan and ensure it is consistent internally and also externally with comparative employers in your sector.
Workload and job duty
Some employees may feel the workload is being distributed unfairly and that they are being asked to take on more than their colleagues, or more than they can manage. These grievances are common when redundancies have taken place or when a member of the team has left and not been replaced. In these circumstances employees are often happy to help out initially but when their workload continues with no recompense or extra support they can become disillusioned and dissatisfied.
Employees may also claim that they are doing a different role to the one they were hired for. You may need to carry out a job analysis and if their current job duties to not match the job description you may need to update it or create a new position.
Employment and personnel
If there has been a period of change in the business and employees have been transferred to a different division, department or even location they may feel aggrieved. This grievance could be based on skills not being fully utilised, a change in job duties, or the negative effects of relocation.
There are many other personnel policies that grievances could stem from such as recruitment processes, promotion and recognition and leave policies.
Work hours and schedules
Employees may raise a grievance at work that relates too many or too few working hours, weekend or evening working or flexible working policies. They may feel their current schedule does not reflect their terms of employment or they be having personal issues that are not being taken into consideration. To avoid this type of grievance you should look to be flexible where possible for childcare and caring responsibilities and could consider introducing flexible working hours.
Working conditions and environment
Employees want to work in a safe, clean and comfortable environment. If a workplace poses a threat to physical or mental health this is often viewed as a valid reason for complaint.
A grievance in the workplace may relate to unsafe or messy areas, the temperature of the work area, cleanliness and office desk etiquette, bathroom and kitchen conditions, or health and safety hazards. Employees working with machinery or tools may also raise grievances relating to the function and safety of these.
The best way to avoid grievances related to environment and conditions is to put in place a detailed health and safety policy and procedures and conduct regular workplace assessments. If an employee raises a complaint you should inspect the area immediately, clear it of any hazards and ensure it meets relevant health and safety requirements.
It is fairly common for employees to raise a grievance in work that relates to their immediate manager or the company management. This may be due to a disconnect or divide between the two parties, difficulty communicating, or an unwillingness on the part of the management to discuss an issue. The grievance may surround micromanaging, favouritism, employees not being listened to, or bullying.
Clear and regular communication between managers and employees is the best way to avoid this type of grievance. When relationships break down employees often turn to union representatives to help with their case. This can result in lengthy and costly investigations.
Bullying and harassment
In most workplaces there will be disagreements and staff won’t get on all of the time. In the main these problems will pass without a grievance being raised, but employees may formally complain if they think they have been bullied or harassed.
While bullying isn’t against the law you should take a zero-tolerance approach to ensure a happy and productive workforce. The best way to do this is to put in place an anti-bullying policy and ensure all staff are aware of the policy and any updates.
Harassment in the workplace is against the law and is defined as unwanted behaviour related to age, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief. For example, a woman may feel like she is paid differently to a man or overlooked for promotion or someone with a disability may feel they are being treated differently. The law protects employees from discrimination relating to, recruitment, dismissal, pay and benefits, terms and conditions, training, promotion and transfer opportunities and redundancy.
Employees and management should be aware of and fully understand anti-harassment policies. Your policies should outline the disciplinary procedure that will be followed in the event of a harassment grievance.
What to do when a grievance at work is raised
If an employee is not happy with how their grievance has been dealt with, they may decide to escalate the issue. Depending on the circumstances, they may, for example, resign and claim constructive dismissal.
If an employee contacts you with a problem or issue it is always best to try and resolve it informally in the first instance. This can save time and upheaval and often employees feel their problem has been addressed following an informal chat.
Not all problems can be resolved in this way and many of the types of grievance we have examined do need to be addressed formally. It is important for all employers to have in place a detailed and compliant grievance policy that sets out the process for managing these.
Employee grievances come in many different forms and can need involved assessment and
investigation. Putting in place a robust grievance policy is important groundwork for successfully managing grievance at work.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.