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Grievances: an introduction

You can raise a grievance with your employer when you have concerns about any aspect of your working life. You can also use the grievance process to raise issues relating to the terms and conditions of your employment. You should always try to resolve disputes informally before raising a formal grievance and a number of grievance procedures allow for this as the first stage of the process.

Grievances typically cover the following areas:

  • pay and working conditions;
  • terms of employment and workplace rules;
  • disagreements with co-workers;
  • allegations of unfair treatment at work.

The procedure for raising a grievance

Here is a typical example of a grievance process in action:

In the first instance, you can speak to your supervisor about your grievance informally.

If you are unsatisfied with your supervisor’s response, or don’t receive any response within a reasonable amount of time, consider whether you should report your grievance to a senior manager.

If you speak to a senior manager and are still unsatisfied with their response, or you don’t receive one, you can raise a formal grievance in writing.

Once you submit your grievance, an investigatory meeting or other action may start to investigate your complaint.

Once the investigation is over, a grievance hearing should be held to consider the case. You have the right to attend the grievance hearing with a trade union rep or workplace colleague.

After considering the issues the employer will make a decision to uphold your grievance or not and confirm the outcome to you in writing.

If your grievance is not upheld you may wish to appeal against the decision.

The Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures provides guidance on how employers should address grievances.

Read the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures here.

In Northern Ireland there is a similar Code of Practice prepared by the Labour Relations Agency that should be followed.

Read the Labour Relations Agency Code of Practice here.

Before raising a grievance, find out what your employer’s grievance procedure is – and make sure you follow it. Every employer should have a written grievance procedure which may be found in the:

  • company handbook;
  • human resources (HR) or personnel manual;
  • the organisation’s intranet;
  • employment contract.

If you want to raise a grievance, you should speak to your UNISON rep. Your rep will help you follow the grievance procedure and can attend meetings with you and assist you in preparing for the grievance hearing.

Other ways to resolve the dispute

If your grievance cannot be resolved under the grievance procedures, alternative forms of dispute resolution (ADR), such as mediation, might be available to help the parties resolve their disputes. Speak to your employer to find out if such methods are used within your organisation. 

If you cannot resolve the dispute by using the grievance procedures and ADR (if available), you may need to consider whether your underlying issue forms the basis of an employment tribunal claim.

Read more about employment tribunals

Remember that there are very tight deadlines within which you must lodge your case, normally 3 months less one day from the act of discrimination (or three months exactly in Northern Ireland).

We strongly advise that you seek further assistance from a UNISON representative to explore what options might be available in your situation, including what would be involved in taking this further step.

What happens during a grievance hearing?

A grievance hearing is a meeting which deals with grievances raised by employees.

You have a legal right to take someone to the meeting with you under the Employment Relations Act 1999 or in Northern Ireland the Employment Relations (NI) Order 1999. To do so, you must make a request to your employer. The accompanying person could be:

  • a colleague;
  • your UNISON rep;
  • a UNISON official.

The companion can help you present your case or speak on your behalf, but they cannot answer questions addressed to you directly.

There is a relationship between claims made in the employment tribunal and the use of grievance procedures. If a claimant is successful in the employment tribunal and the tribunal decide to award compensation, the tribunal may reduce any compensation awarded if the claimant didn’t first make use of the grievance procedures. This is an important issue for you to bear in mind if you are considering whether to take the matter further.

Guidance and law on grievances

Acas has produced a code of guidance on disciplinary procedures for employers, employees and workers setting out minimum standards for dealing with grievances.

Read the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures here.

The Northern Ireland equivalent is prepared by the Labour Relations Agency.

Read the Labour Relations Agency Code of Practice here.

You don’t have to follow this code but if you take your case to an employment tribunal, the final decision will consider whether or not the code has been followed when deciding how much compensation to award.

It is important to consider the code’s guiding principles in your situation and also any grievance procedures used by your employer, if you are considering whether to file an employment tribunal claim. A UNISON rep will be able to advise you further and specific advice should always be sought before proceeding.

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Next steps for UNISON reps

Negotiate with your employer to create a written grievance procedure if they do not already have one.

Be prepared to accompany a co-worker to a grievance hearing if you are asked, because trade union officials, reps and colleagues are allowed to attend hearings. You may also be asked to speak on your colleague’s behalf.

Key facts
  • A grievance is a complaint made by an employee to their employer, which requires the employer to take further action.
  • A grievance is a dispute at work raised by an employee to their employer.
  • Attempts should be made to solve the problem informally if possible.
  • The Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures from Acas/LRA provides the key steps for raising a grievance.



  • Am I likely to lose my job if I raise a grievance?

    You should not be dismissed for simply raising a grievance. Speak to your rep for advice based on the specific details of your case if you feel that you may be disadvantaged in some way due to raising a grievance.

  • Can I take someone with me to a grievance hearing?

    Yes. You can take your trade UNISON rep, a colleague or another UNISON representative to the hearing.

  • I am a sub-contractor/freelance worker. Can I raise a grievance against my client?

    No. Sub-contractors or freelance workers may not raise a grievance against their clients or contracting company.

  • I have a complaint about my working conditions. I have told my immediate supervisor, but they have not got back to me. Is there anything more I can do?

    Yes. You can take your complaint further by raising a formal grievance. Ask your employer if they have a grievance procedure in place and speak to your UNISON rep as soon as possible.