|What is the Issue?|
A grievance is “a complaint by an employee about action which his employer has taken or is contemplating taking in relation to him.” When raising a grievance, the employee must inform the employer of the basis for his grievance.
If an employee makes a claim to the Tribunal, but has not raised a grievance about the relevant issue, the Tribunal will not accept the claim (although, depending on the timing, the employee may be able to raise his grievance and then re-submit his Tribunal claim).
Once a grievance is raised, the employer should (in most cases) deal with it by holding a meeting with the employee and giving the employee the opportunity to appeal against its findings. If the employer does not do so, then one consequence is that any related Tribunal award may be increased by between 10%-50%.
What has been decided?
In a recent Tribunal case an employee wrote to his employer during a disciplinary investigation stating “…I am concerned that this whole investigation has been tainted by an element of bias which means that I will not receive a fair hearing”.
The Tribunal held that this letter was sufficient for him to have raised a “grievance”, even though it did not mention the statutory dispute resolution procedure, did not ask for a meeting to discuss the complaints and did not even use the word “grievance”.
What does this mean for employers?
In order to have raised a “grievance” for this purpose, an employee does not have to follow the employer’s grievance procedure or even say that he wants to raise a grievance. A letter of complaint will suffice.
Therefore, line managers and HR managers should take care to treat any written complaint received from an employee as a potential grievance. If it is not clear whether a letter does constitute a grievance, the employer should ask the employee whether they would like to meet to discuss the complaint. If so, then the employer should follow its internal grievance procedure, or, at least the simple statutory process set out above. The key will be not to ignore such a complaint just because it is not expressed to be a formal grievance.
In another recent Tribunal case, the award against the employer was increased by 40% because the employer ignored the employee’s grievance letter.