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How to write a grievance policy – a small business guide

3-minute read

Grievance policy
Zach Hayward-Jones

Zach Hayward-Jones

27 October 2023

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Every employer is legally obliged to tell employees how they'll deal with grievances, and sharing a written policy is the best way to do this.

What is a grievance policy?

Businesses are legally obliged to tell employees about how they'll deal with a grievance.

The best way to do this is to have a formal, written document that sets out how employee grievances will be dealt with by a company’s management.

There are several areas in which grievances may arise. These include:

  • discrimination
  • health and safety, including stress
  • new working practices or broader changes in the workplace
  • relations between individuals in the business

Ideally, employers should plan ahead to minimise the risk of these issues occurring, especially during periods of change in an organisation.

For example if the company is restructuring, holding a forum for employees to ask questions and get reassurance could reduce the number of grievances further down the line.

In most cases, there should be an attempt to resolve issues informally before a formal complaint is made.

At this point, you could seek mediation from an impartial, independent person. Their job is to work with both sides to find a solution to the problem.

Both sides would need to agree to mediation and you may need to pay for it if the mediator comes from outside your business.

What’s included in a grievance policy?

A grievance at work policy usually includes these key clauses:

  • the name of the person who the employee should report a grievance to, and their contact details
  • details of an additional person who the employee should report a grievance to, if the first person is involved in the grievance
  • an explanation that problems will be taken to a grievance hearing if they can’t be resolved informally
  • an explanation of how a decision can be appealed if the employee is unsatisfied
  • an explanation that employees have the legal right to be accompanied into meetings, either by a colleague or, if they have one, a union representative
  • firm time limits for each stage of the grievance procedure

In the worst case scenario, an employee may choose to take a grievance to an employment tribunal.

Some policies make it clear to the employee that if they go straight to tribunal without following the grievance procedure first, any compensation awarded could be reduced.

You can see an example of a basic disciplinary procedure and the Acas grievance policy guidelines on its website.

How does a business prepare for a grievance hearing?

Firstly, attempts should be made to deal with grievances in an informal way. For example, having a two-way conversation with the aim of finding a solution to the problem.

If this isn't possible, then the employee may want to raise a grievance and you should arrange a formal grievance hearing.

In serious cases, for issues such as sexual harrassment or discrimination, the grievance may need to go straight to a hearing. If it involves a crime, the police may need to be involved.

Before the hearing, you should give the employee reasonable notice so they can prepare their case. Generally, reasonable notice would be around five working days but it’s good practice to let the employee know as soon as possible.

You should conduct a full investigation, and you might choose to either call witnesses or take written statements.

An additional impartial manager should attend the hearing to make sure that it's carried out properly, and there should be somebody there taking notes.

Again, remember you need to explain to the employee that they have the right to be accompanied either by a colleague or by a union representative.

The importance of keeping records

As soon as an employee raises a grievance, it’s important that you keep detailed, written records.

Your records will need to keep track of:

  • who’s involved in the grievance
  • what it’s about
  • any mediation or informal attempts to resolve the issue
  • details of any grievance hearing
  • the reasons for any decisions and final actions
  • whether the employee decides to appeal the decision

Make sure your written records keep all personal information confidential and comply with data protection rules.

What happens after the hearing?

After the grievance hearing, you should give the employee a copy of the notes from the meeting. You may wish to redact certain details if you need to protect the anonymity of a witness.

You should then notify the employee of the decision, and explain how you've come to it.

How to handle an appeal

As explained in your company disciplinary and grievance policy, employees have a right to appeal if they're dissatisfied with the outcome of the procedure.

Appeal hearings follow a similar format to the original hearing. But you should also make sure you look into the factors that caused you to come to the original decision, along with any new evidence or information that's come to light since.

Generally speaking, appeal hearings should be held by a different manager than the one who heard the first hearing.

Once you’ve made a decision at appeal, this should be shared with the employee in writing, and it should be explained that this is final.

Looking after the wellbeing of your staff

The grievance procedure can be stressful and time-consuming for employees.

Therefore, you need to make sure you support them and look out for their wellbeing.

Supporting employees throughout the process can help them to look after their mental health and maintain staff morale, while reducing absences and issues with productivity.

Read our guides on how to support mental health as an employer and how to improve mental wellbeing for further insight.

Do you have any unanswered questions about writing a grievance policy for your business? Let us know in the comments below.

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Photograph: alexkich/stock.adobe.com
Zach Hayward-Jones

Written by

Zach Hayward-Jones

Zach Hayward-Jones is a Copywriter at Simply Business, with six years of writing experience across entertainment, insurance, and financial services. Zach specialises in covering small business and landlord insurance. He has a particular interest in issues impacting the hospitality industry after spending a number of years working as a pastry chef.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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