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Grievances

Last updated: 13 Aug 2021

  1. Who can raise a grievance?
  2. I am not an employee. Can I still raise a grievance?
  3. When should I raise a grievance?
  4. What can I do instead of raising a grievance?
  5. What are the pros and cons of raising a grievance?
  6. What do I need to set out in the grievance?
  7. Will there be a grievance meeting?
  8. If there is a grievance meeting, who can accompany me?
  9. What can and should my companion do?
  10. They’ve just ignored my grievance. What is the next step?
  11. I totally disagree with the grievance resolution. What can/should I do next?
  12. What can I do after the appeal?

1. Who can raise a grievance?

All employees should be able to raise any concerns, problems or complaints (grievances) that they have with their employer. It is usually best to try and resolve matters informally and amicably. The employer should respond even if the problem is raised informally. However, for some serious issues, an informal chat may not be the best approach and  you may need to make a more formal complaint known as “raising a grievance”.  These will usually be related to your employment. You may feel that you need to raise a grievance straight away if:

  • you have raised the issue informally and it has not worked;
  • it’s a very serious issue, for example sexual harassment or whistleblowing.

If your concern is about something outside of your employer’s direct control, such as working conditions on another employer’s site which you are required to attend or problems arising from a client relationship, you should usually start by raising your concern informally with your employer.

Employers are legally required to have a written grievance procedure in place informing employees of how to raise a grievance and to whom. Most employers will have a more extensive policy. This will usually be set out in your contract of employment or a staff handbook. Before raising any grievance, it is recommended that you consult these policies.

Further guidance is provided by the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures which sets minimum requirements for employers dealing with grievances. While not legally binding, an Employment Tribunal may reduce or increase any compensation you would receive in a claim by up to 25% if either you or your employer has failed to comply with these minimum requirements.

2. I am not an employee. Can I still raise a grievance? 

The ACAS Code applies to grievances raised by employees ‘under a contract of employment’. This means that it may be open to the employer to give other workers (e.g. agency or contracted workers) access to the formal grievance procedure. It would also be good practice for an employer to consider a grievance of a dismissed employee, but they may set out in their policy that they will not do so. However, an Employment Tribunal may increase any compensation by up to 25% if your employer does not hear your grievance, even if the grievance is submitted post-dismissal.

In all cases, you should consult your employer’s written grievance procedure. For example, if you are an agency worker, you may be entitled to raise a grievance with your agency or the business you’re placed with. While many organisations may extend the provisions of their grievance procedure to non-employees, you will need to check whether you come under the organisation’s grievance policy if you are not an employee.

Please note that, if you have been included in an organisation’s formal procedure, this may be relevant to your employment status. See our Employer, self-employer or worker page.

3. When should I raise a grievance?

Unless your employer’s written grievance procedure specifies that all grievances must be raised within a certain time limit, there is no legal limit on when you can raise a grievance. You should check your workplace grievance policy to find out how to raise a formal grievance and who you should send it to.

It is, however, advisable for you to raise a grievance reasonably soon after the issue arises, and you should take any actions expected of you under a grievance policy as soon as you can. An employer will be less likely to take a grievance seriously, or be able to satisfactorily resolve problems that have arisen too far in the past.

If your issue is serious, you should also consider whether delaying your grievance may prevent you from making a claim to a tribunal. For example, if your grievance relates to discrimination, delaying any grievance may mean that you miss the three month deadline, starting from the date of the discrimination, for bringing a claim. If you believe that a claim is possible, you should take legal advice. While a tribunal would usually expect you to have exhausted internal complaints processes, you do not need to wait for a grievance to be fully resolved before bringing a claim if it would mean that you miss time limits.

A tribunal will consider whether an employee has a genuine reason for not following a formal grievance procedure. For example, the employee might find it difficult to attend a grievance meeting with someone accused of sexually harassing them.

But there may be better ways to get what you want than raising a grievance. See below!

4. What can I do instead of raising a grievance?

In most cases, it will not be necessary to raise a formal grievance. Many issues can be resolved by speaking to your line manager or other senior staff members. If you do not feel comfortable doing that, you could speak to someone in HR. Speaking to someone you feel comfortable with may reduce the risk of antagonising your line manager and can often lead to a constructive solution. Sometimes, grievances do more harm than good! See here for more details on the risks of raising a grievance, alternatives to grievances and tips for engaging with your employer effectively.

If your employer has behaved very badly towards you, you feel you cannot work for them any longer, but you have not been dismissed, you have the legal right to resign and make a claim for constructive dismissal. This essentially means that your employer has breached your contract in such a serious way that it is a ‘fundamental breach’ and you feel you have no choice but to resign. 

This is a high-risk option and you should seek legal advice before taking this step. We would not recommend resigning, but rather to continue to work under protest and seek to reach agreement whilst protecting your employment wherever possible. This is because in constructive dismissal claims, it is for you to prove that your employer’s breach of contract was so serious that you considered the contract was terminated by your employer. There is no guarantee a Tribunal will agree with you. Even if your claim succeeds, you may not receive enough compensation to make up for the loss of your job.

5. What are the pros and cons of raising a grievance?

Employees and employers are encouraged to try and resolve workplace issues informally. But you may wish to raise a formal grievance at the outset because:

      • Employers may take a formal grievance more seriously than an informal approach and may be more likely to reach a solution;
      • Even if it is unlikely that the grievance will resolve the issue, it may still be beneficial for you to set out your concerns in writing and cooperate as far as possible with your employer’s formal procedure;
      • Your employer may encourage the raising of written complaints, because they see this as an opportunity to learn from and correct policies and practices;
      • If your grievance concerns a serious issue, such as discrimination, an employment tribunal would expect you to raise a formal complaint as soon as possible;
      • If your grievance concerns the behaviour of a particular line manager, it may be helpful to have your complaint considered by someone else in the organisation.

The disadvantages of raising a grievance are:

      • A formal complaint may not be appropriate for a minor inconvenience and may escalate an issue unnecessarily.
      • Depending on the culture of your organisation, your grievance may signal to the employer that you are on course for bringing a claim against them, and make the employment relationship more difficult.
      • Even if the issue is resolved, workplace relationships may be irreparably damaged.

See here for more details on the risks of raising a grievance, alternatives to grievances and tips for engaging with your employer effectively.

6. What do I need to set out in the grievance?

There are no formal rules for what must be included in the grievance. The ACAS Code only requires that the grievance be in writing and sets out the nature of the grievance. The employee with the grievance should put it in writing to whoever is most appropriate – this could be their line manager or HR manager.

It is recommended that the grievance sets out all of the issues complained about in enough detail to make your position clear. This includes what the actions were, when they happened, who was involved, how it affected you and what resolution you would like from your employer.

The grievance letter may be written by yourself, your legal advisers or a voluntary agency such as the Citizens Advice Bureau. This will depend on the circumstances; a letter from legal advisers will be more expensive and may appear unnecessarily hostile to your employer.

We have drafted a sample grievance letter that can help you draft your own.

7. Will there be a grievance meeting?

Managers should arrange a grievance meeting with you within 5 working days. The details of this will usually be contained in your employer’s grievance policy and the employer should allow employees enough time to prepare for the meeting.

If your concern involves bullying, harassment or whistleblowing, your employer may wish to deal with your grievance through a separate procedure. You should consult your employer’s policies in these cases.

To keep the procedure fair, the employer should:

  • consider information and evidence from all sides;
  • see if a similar grievance has happened before and aim to follow as similar a procedure as possible;
  • keep a confidential record of the meeting, any evidence they’ve gathered, and any decisions taken.

8. If there is a grievance meeting, who can accompany me?

Workers have a legal right to be accompanied by a companion to a grievance meeting. This will be a colleague, a trade union representative or a trade union employee; although an employer’s policy may allow other people to accompany you, such as a family member. The employer may also arrange for someone not involved in the grievance to take notes at the meeting.

You must make a reasonable request to your employer, letting them know the name of your companion in enough time to make arrangements for their attendance before the meeting.

If your employer fails to comply with your reasonable request to be accompanied, or rearrange a hearing to allow your companion to attend, you may make a claim to an employment tribunal. However, the compensation for a standalone claim for a breach of the statutory right to be accompanied is likely to be minimal. It is more likely to be worth doing if you are bringing a main claim as well (for example, unfair dismissal or discrimination).

9. What can and should my companion do?

With your permission as the person raising the grievance, your companion can address the meeting to put or summarise your case to your employer, respond to any view expressed at the meeting on your behalf and to confer with you during the meeting. A good use of your companion would be as a note taker and a witness, especially if they have no formal representative training.

Your companion cannot answer any questions on your behalf and they cannot obstruct you from presenting your case in any way. The companion also cannot prevent anyone else at the meeting from explaining their side of the case.

10. They’ve just ignored my grievance. What is the next step?

If an employer ignores a grievance or fails to hear it within a reasonable time, you could possibly argue that this is a fundamental breach of your employment contract. In this case, you may be able to resign and bring a claim in the employment tribunal that you were constructively unfairly dismissed.

This is a high-risk option and you should seek legal advice before taking this step. We would not recommend resigning, but rather to continue to work under protest and seek to reach agreement whilst protecting your employment wherever possible. This is because in constructive dismissal claims, it is for you to prove that your employer’s breach of contract was so serious that you considered the contract was terminated by your employer. There is no guarantee a Tribunal will agree with you. Even if your claim succeeds, you may not receive enough compensation to make up for the loss of your job.

11. I totally disagree with the grievance resolution. What can/should I do next?

If your grievance is not satisfactorily resolved (e.g. you feel the outcome was wrong, the procedure was unfair or you have new evidence to show), your next step should be to appeal against the decision. Employers should inform you of their decision shortly after the meeting and tell you how you can make an appeal.

Most appeal procedures should be set out in your employer’s grievance policy. You should let your employer know the grounds of your appeal in writing as soon as possible after the decision has been made. If there are no timescales set out in the grievance policy, you should inform your employer of your decision to appeal within a week. If an employer does not give the opportunity to appeal, this could be counted against them if the case goes to employment tribunal.

An appeal means your employer needs to look at your case again to see if the procedure was followed in a fair way and the outcome is fair. The employer should:

  • hear your appeal;
  • carry out another investigation, if necessary;
  • see if a different outcome is appropriate; and
  • provide the final outcome in writing as soon as possible, ideally within 5 working days of the formal appeal meeting.

12. What can I do after the appeal?

Some employers may allow for more than one appeal stage, although the ACAS Code only stipulates that one appeal be allowed. Details of this will be set out in the formal grievance policy. In this case, you may wish to make a further appeal, although you should consider whether the time and resources required by both parties to prepare for and attend subsequent appeals would be necessary to resolve your issue.

Smaller organisations may only have one appeal stage and any decision at the first appeal may be final. If you are unsatisfied with your employer’s decision, and you are unable to make a further appeal, you should consider taking legal advice. You can also call the ACAS helpline on 0300 123 1100. to talk through your options, although ACAS cannot give an opinion or legal advice.


This advice applies in England, Wales and Scotland . If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.

If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.

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The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.