What to do if you are having problems at work
If you are having a problem at work, there are a number of ways you can address it. This article covers the general steps you can take to resolve a problem at work.
However, what is best for you will depend on the situation, how serious the problem is, and how your employer is dealing with the problem. If you are facing a serious problem, like discrimination, harassment or bullying, you should also read our articles addressing these issues.
You should try to sort the matter out informally with your employer first, by speaking to your line manager, human resources or another senior manager. This could save you time and stress compared to a formal process, and is likely to help maintain good working relations.
It can be helpful to keep your communication positive and solution focused. Focusing on what you want out of the conversation, rather than dwelling on what has gone wrong, can help your employer understand how they can help you and resolve the situation.
You may ask someone to attend the meeting with you, for example a colleague or a union representative – although note that your employer is not required to agree to this.
Preparing for a meeting with your employer
Before the meeting, it would be a good idea to prepare and think about:
- What you wish to raise;
- Any relevant documents or evidence; and
- What you would like to achieve at the meeting.
As additional preparation, you may wish to speak to your union representative, if you are in a union. Employment rights can be very complicated. It may help to get some leaflets to show your employer and to get advice at this stage, so you know your rights.
Separately, some workplaces offer support by way of trained members of staff (such as mental health first aiders or fair treatment ambassadors), who you could reach out to at the same time. Your workplace might also offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which might be useful while you resolve the problems you are facing.
Follow up in writing
You should keep a diary about the problem and notes of any conversations you have had with your employer. If any actions are agreed, ensure you have a date from your employer on when things will occur, so you can follow up with them. You should try and get your employer to put things in writing where possible.
Notes and written communications will be useful if you may need to take further action.
If you have had an informal meeting with your employer and this has not resolved the problem, you can send an email or letter to your line manager, human resources or another senior manager documenting what was discussed, and anything that was agreed.
As above, think about what it is you wish to achieve as a result of the communication, and consider getting advice on you rights.
If the discussions with your employer don’t resolve the problem, or you think your employer has treated you unfairly and the relationship is breaking down, you can consider raising a grievance. You can find more information in our article on grievances.
Raising a grievance is important if you think you might later raise a claim in the employment tribunal because failure to follow internal resolution procedures can disadvantage a claim.
It is advisable to try and resolve things amicably, as formal processes can damage your relationship with your employer. For some insight into grievances and tips on how to engage with your employer before it reaches this point, see our article on grievances do more harm than good.
If you are at an impasse with your employer, and cannot resolve things with them, the last resort should be to consider taking legal action. For many employment issues, you can make a claim in an employment tribunal, although for some situations you may need to make a claim in the civil courts.
Taking legal action can be costly and time-consuming, so this should be a last resort. If you are unsure, you should seek legal advice before contemplating this step.
For more information, see our articles on how to start a claim.
You must make your claim within the time limits which are very strict. You must contact ACAS to start early conciliation within 3 months less 1 day of the act complained of.
The time limit is very strict, and submitting a grievance does not extend the limit. Even if you are still trying to resolve the issue with your employer, if you are near to the time limit expiring it may be best to start early conciliation.
If you are considering a claim in the employment tribunal, you will be required to go through Early Conciliation with ACAS before making a claim. To do this, you will need to complete a form informing ACAS that you intend to make a claim in the tribunal.
ACAS can help you to reach an agreement with your employer before you make a claim. You and your employer can tell your conciliator what you want through the process, and the conciliator can help you to reach a settlement. However, your employer need not participate and you do not need to accept a settlement agreement. We strongly recommend seeking legal advice before deciding whether to reject a settlement offer.
If you are thinking about making a claim, it is often very useful to make a Data Subject Access Request to get information and put pressure on your employer. You should also keep a copy of any key emails, letters and notes of your conversations with your employer.
For more information, see our articles on how to get information from your employer.
Please note, if you are experiencing discrimination, harassment or victimisation in the workplace, please see our advice on this here.
This advice applies in England and Wales. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details. If you are in Northern Ireland you can visit the Labour Relations Agency or call their helpline Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300.
If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.
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.
We cannot provide advice on employment rights in Northern Ireland as the law is different. You can visit the Labour Relations Agency or call their helpline Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300.