Acas advice on handling internal grievance procedures is in the Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures. This replaced the old Statutory Dispute Procedures. There was no clean break with the old procedures and transitional arrangements applied. This factsheet explains how employees should go about submitting a grievance, how employers should handle it using their internal grievance procedure (Acas Code of Practice) and the penalties for getting it wrong.
The purpose of a grievance procedure is to give employees a way to raise issues with their managers about their working environment or work relationships – known as submitting a grievance.
The Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures simplified the much criticised Statutory Dispute Procedures. The Acas Code suggests parties ‘should’, rather than ‘must’ act in a certain way. Employment Tribunals ruling on individual cases can:
The Employment Tribunal has wide discretion to uplift or reduce compensation as it applies to any grievance where either party has unreasonably failed to follow the Acas Code. The Employment Tribunal can also choose not to adjust compensation at all.
The Acas Code does not apply to collective grievances – a grievance brought by an appropriate representative for more than two employees.
If an employee is submitting a grievance during disciplinary procedures the employer can decide whether or not to stay or suspend the disciplinary proceedings.
Even though the Acas Code has been in force since 2009, it is still not clear whether the code’s definition of employee covers the actions of employers towards former employees.
The Acas Code sets out steps employers and employees ‘should’ take when dealing with grievances using an internal grievance procedure. Employers should also follow their internal grievance procedure in addition to the steps outlined below. Employers should deal with all issues fairly and consistently to avoid claims of discrimination or unfair treatment and/or undermining the implied duty of mutual trust and confidence.
The employee should raise their grievance promptly and in writing. Failure to do so does not prevent an employee bringing a Tribunal claim about the matter. However, where the employee has not first raised the grievance in writing (sometimes referred to as an Acas grievance letter), compensation may be reduced by up to 25%. Where the grievance is about their line manager, and the company policy states that the grievance must be raised with them, the employee may approach another manager or the HR department.
To establish the facts, the employer should collect documents, identify relevant people to interview and take statements before memories start to fade. Requests for anonymity and confidentiality should be taken seriously.
The grievance hearing should be scheduled without unreasonable delay. Both the employer and employee should make every effort to attend this meeting. Employees can request to be accompanied by a fellow worker or trade union representative where the complaint is about a duty owed by the employer. However, it is good practice to allow an employee to be accompanied at all types of grievance hearing. This request must be ‘reasonable’, ie the companion should not be someone who will prejudice the meeting or is from a remote workplace if someone nearer is available. If the employee’s companion is not available to attend the scheduled date for the grievance, the employee can suggest an alternative time, as long as this is reasonable and not more than five working days after the original date, unless there is good reason for this.
The purpose of the meeting is for the employer to establish the facts and decide whether to uphold the grievance or not. The employee should be sent copies of all relevant documents and statements before the hearing. Employees should be allowed to call their relevant witnesses and the employer may also choose to call witnesses if this is necessary.
The hearing itself should be in a private room with no interruptions. A full written record of the meeting should be prepared or a transcript made if both parties have agreed to the meeting being recorded. The meeting should follow the following format:
When the matter is concluded, the employer should decide on appropriate action. Where the grievance highlights procedural errors or a lack of policy, training or procedures, these should be addressed as soon as possible. The decision should take into account:
The employer should give the employee their decision without unreasonable delay. This should include details of intended actions. The employer must also notify the employee of their right to appeal.
Appeals should be in writing and specify the grounds of appeal. If the employee brings a Tribunal claim without appealing their employer’s decision, their award may be reduced. The meeting should be arranged such that there is at least one, preferably more, senior person who has not been involved in the previous grievance to hear any subsequent appeal.
The employee has the right to be accompanied. The appeal meeting should carefully consider any new evidence and review the original decision.
The employer should communicate their final decision and the reasons for it in writing without unreasonable delay. Ensure any action is monitored and reviewed, so it deals effectively with the issues and prevents a further grievance being raised.
Our employment law solicitors and HR consultants can help employers and employees with all aspects of the Acas grievance procedure.