Skip to content

Limited access mode: Please note you need to be an HR Protect client to access some content on this Hub.  Please enquire.

These FAQs set out the common questions and pitfalls faced by employers when dealing with grievances. The additional documents referred to are designed to assist you further. Please note that some documents are available to all readers whilst others are locked and only accessible to HR Protect clients. To become a retainer client or to find out further information please click here.

What is a grievance?

It is a complaint, concern or problem raised by a member of staff. It can cover anything from a complaint about a colleague and the way they have been treated, to a complaint about unequal pay or an unfair process.

A grievance can also cover a complaint of bullying and harassment and discrimination although many organisations have a separate policy for handling these concerns.

Does a grievance have to be made in writing?

No. A grievance can be a verbal complaint made to someone’s manager. Ideally, however, you would ask your member of staff if they want to put their grievance in writing so that there is a record. If a grievance is put in writing, it does not prevent an informal approach being taken if appropriate.

Does a grievance always have to be dealt with formally?

No. In many cases it is appropriate to deal with a grievance informally, particularly where it has been a one off or minor incident.  Speaking to the parties involved on an informal basis can often diffuse the situation and enables the parties to see the other’s point of view.


If the informal approach does not resolve the issue then the next step is to use the formal process. You should also use the formal process where the incident is more serious, or there have been a number of incidents, or the aggrieved insists.

If you have a grievance policy it will also provide guidance on the approach to follow.

For further guidance on the process employers need to follow see:

Flowchart: Grievance

Associated resource

G2 – Grievance process flowchart

Do I need to have a grievance policy in place?

It is not a mandatory requirement for employers to have a grievance policy in place, but it can be extremely helpful when dealing with such matters as it sets out what is expected of the employee and employer in these situations. It is crucial that all grievance policies incorporate the provisions of the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures as a minimum:

For a compliant policy please see:

G9: Grievance Policy and Procedure

Associated resource

G9 – Grievance Policy and Procedure

Who should investigate a grievance?

This should be someone who is independent to the issues. Ideally it should be the direct line manager of the complainant. If the grievance is about that line manager then it should be their line manager or someone more senior.

If you have a small business where there is no one truly independent then you could consider asking an external person from specialist investigation company or with an HR background to undertake the investigation.

Do you always need to allow an employee to be accompanied to a grievance meeting?

All employees are entitled to be accompanied to a grievance hearing, by either a colleague or Trade Union representative. There is no right to be accompanied to a grievance investigation meeting. Where the employer fails to allow the employee to be accompanied to a grievance hearing and the individual subsequently brings a claim in the Employment Tribunal, this failure in itself attracts a separate award of compensation. See:

G3: Acknowledgement of grievance and invitation to grievance meeting

G7: Grievance meeting guidance

Associated resource

G3 – Acknowledgement of Grievance and Invitation to Grievance Meeting

Associated resource

G7 – Grievance Meeting Guidance

What happens if someone raises a grievance during a disciplinary process and says that they have been treated unfairly? Do you have to investigate the grievance?


It is not unusual for someone who is subject to a disciplinary or performance management process, for example, to raise a grievance to say that they have been treated unfairly. You have three options:

  • Pause the disciplinary process whilst you investigate the grievance
  • Incorporate the grievance investigation into the disciplinary investigation
  • Have the grievance investigation and disciplinary investigation running side by side

The approach you take will depend on a number of factors such as; is the aggrieved saying that the disciplinary process itself is unfair which may mean that their grievance needs to be investigated independently? You would have to be mindful of any delay to the disciplinary process if you choose to pause it whilst the grievance is investigated.

Or are they saying that, for example, their manager has treated them unfairly which is why they have behaved as they have, in which case it may be suitable to have a combined investigation and grievance process.

Or is it a more general grievance about how they have been treated which would have no effect on the outcome of any disciplinary process? In which case the processes could be kept separate.

If the grievance is anonymous do we still need to investigate?

Yes although the investigation might be limited if you are unable to clarify the issues with the person who has raised the grievance.

Do I have to investigate a grievance if someone is no longer my employee?

Potentially yes.

If the individual raised the grievance whilst they were still employed then you should investigate their concerns particularly as it may be the basis for an Employment Tribunal claim.

If they raised the grievance after they have left your employment you will need to consider the risk that they may bring a claim arising out of the issues in the grievance and if that claim can be brought in time.

If the grievance raises serious issues about bullying and harassment by management or a group of employees, for example, it could be necessary to investigate those concerns particularly if there is a potential for impact on the individuals who remain.


What are the most common mistakes employers make in a grievance process?
  • Not investigating the allegations properly

Often employers are found by Employment Tribunals to have not taken a balanced approach to the investigation and only investigated the facts in support of the allegations, not those which support the employee.

  • Not identifying the allegations to be investigated properly

Allegations in a grievance can be complex and can cover a long period of time. It is crucial that the investigator is clear about what allegations need to be investigated. Ideally the scope of the investigation should be agreed with the aggrieved at the outset.

  • Lack of communication

Raising a grievance is often a very stressful time for the individual making the complaint and the individuals being investigated. If the investigation is handled poorly, it can badly damage the employment relationship. Investigations do not always run to plan and there can be delays. It is very important to keep the line of communication open with all those involved and provide updates on the progress of the investigation particularly if there is a delay.

  • Inconsistent treatment of employees

Clearly, each case turns on its own facts, but employers need to be very wary of being capable of justifying any differences in treatment. If the decision is not capable of justification then it may give rise to a constructive unfair dismissal claim, and potentially some form of discrimination claim if the individual can show that the difference in treatment can be explained by their protected characteristic.

Do you need to provide a copy of the notes from the investigation to the person who raised the grievance.

There is no legal requirement to do so and organisations often make the decision not to because of the sensitive nature of the allegations and information provided.

Careful consideration will need to be given to any request for a copy of the notes. Remember that someone can make a subject access request and obtain the notes in that way.

Additional Information

For further guidance on the appropriate grievance process and useful documents please see:

Associated resource

G1- How to Guide – Grievances

Associated resource

G2 - Grievance process flowchart

Updated on 01.05.2021

Download document

Associated resource

G4 – Letter of invitation to appeal meeting

Associated resource

G5 – Grievance outcome letter

Associated resource

G6 – Appeal meeting outcome letter

Associated resource

G8 – Grievance appeal meeting guidance

Most documents are locked and restricted to HR Protect retained clients only. To gain unlimited access please either login or enquire now

Insights and Events