Jayne Harrison explores the practical issues relating to how you take a grievance against your practice
There is really no magic formula to a grievance and what it must look like or say, but there are a few important steps to think about when considering raising a grievance (see box).
How to write your grievance
Your grievance should clearly set out what it is you are complaining about, with dates, times and colleague details, if relevant. Also attach any documentary evidence you are relying on with your grievance.
Bear in mind that your written grievance may end up as evidence in any subsequent tribunal claim. If there are several aspects to your grievance, it will be helpful to set these out under separate headings.
You also need to consider what outcome you want to achieve by raising the grievance with your practice. It can be helpful to both parties if the outcome you want to achieve is stated in your grievance, as this is really the reason why you are complaining and therefore your employer needs to know this.
Keep a copy of your grievance and a record of how you sent your grievance to the practice.
Grievance process: three initial steps to consider
1 Get hold of your practice’s grievance procedure to see how it deals with grievances. This will normally be found in a handbook or your contract of employment. Their procedure may be prescriptive about what information you need to include in your grievance or the form that this takes.
2 Be aware that your practice will need to comply with the Acas Code of Practice, regardless of whether they have a grievance procedure in place. The Acas code is intended to provide practical guidance to employers and employees and sets out the standard of reasonable behaviour for both parties when an employee has a grievance that cannot be resolved informally.
3 Consider whether you need to raise a formal grievance. Normally employers prefer to try and deal with grievances informally where possible. This will involve you going to your practice and verbally raising an issue that you are not happy with. If your grievance has not been resolved by the informal approach then you can raise a formal grievance with your practice. Usually a formal grievance means that it is in writing and you are invoking your practice’s formal grievance procedure.
What happens when your employer receives your grievance?
The practice should invite you to an investigation meeting to discuss your grievance and answer any questions that your employer has. Most employers will try and do this quickly.
The practice should regard their investigation as a fact-finding exercise. They should seek to collect relevant information on the issues you have raised in your grievance, to enable them to make an informed decision. If a practice makes a decision without first conducting a reasonable investigation, this may make their decision unfair, and leave them vulnerable to legal action.
At the end of the investigation, the Acas Code of Practice suggests that it is good practice for the investigator to ask you whether there are other witnesses they think should be interviewed and why, and check whether there is anything else that you think is important to tell the investigator.
Should my employer consider mediation as an alternative approach?
Employers may look to use mediation to try and resolve your grievance as an alternative to going through a formal grievance procedure. This is strongly recommended by Acas in situations where your grievance remains unresolved.
Mediation may be appropriate:
- To address a range of issues, including relationship breakdown, personality clashes, communication problems, and bullying and harassment
- To resolve conflicts between colleagues of a similar job or grade, or between a line manager and their staff
- At any stage in a conflict, as long as ongoing formal procedures are put on hold
- Where it is built in to a formal disciplinary, grievance or other workplace procedure as a separate stage
- To rebuild relationships after a formal dispute has been resolved.
However, Acas does not regard mediation as being suitable if:
- It is used as a first resort, as individuals should be encouraged to talk to each other and their manager before seeking a solution via mediation
- It is used by a manager to avoid their managerial responsibilities
- A decision about right or wrong is needed (for example, where there is possible criminal activity)
- The individual bringing a discrimination or harassment complaint wants it to be investigated
- The parties do not have the power to settle the dispute
- One side is completely intransigent and using mediation will only raise unrealistic expectations of a positive outcome.
Formal grievance hearings
If your grievance proceeds through the formal procedure, then your employer may invite you to attend a formal grievance hearing.
At this hearing you should have the right to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative. It is always worth asking your employer if you can be accompanied by someone, to provide you with moral support for what might be a difficult time or subject matter. Your accompanying person should be permitted to address the hearing (including putting your case, summing up, and responding on your behalf to any view expressed at the hearing) and to confer with you during the hearing.
It is a good idea to take notes of the grievance hearing and this can be a role that your accompanying person assists you with. It might be that months later these notes are an important record of what was said or agreed during the hearing.
What happens after the hearing?
Once you have completed the grievance hearing your employer must inform you, without unreasonable delay, of the action it has decided to take to resolve your grievance. They should also tell you about your right of appeal their decision.
Although the Acas code requires this to be in writing, it is good practice, once the employer has reached a decision, to reconvene the meeting and provide the employee with an explanation of the steps the employer intends to take.
Can I appeal the outcome of the grievance hearing?
If your grievance has not been resolved, then you have the right of appeal against the original decision. Normally your employer will set out the time frame you have to appeal their decision.
The employer will require you to set out why you are appealing and on what grounds. Someone who has not dealt with your grievance before should be appointed to handle your appeal.
Normally your employer will want to invite you to a grievance appeal hearing to go through your grounds of appeal. Your appeal grounds might be that your employer made the wrong decision, or did not interview a witness, or new evidence has come to light, or there was a failing with the investigation.
The appeal hearing will usually take the same format as the original grievance hearing and you should be accompanied again. Your employer should then provide you with a decision on the appeal, which they should confirm in writing.
What are my options if I am not happy about my grievance after an appeal?
If your grievance has not been resolved at this point, then it may be that you need to take legal advice to see if your grievance can be resolved by Acas early conciliation or even a tribunal claim.
Jayne Harrison is head of employment law at Richard Nelson LLP