The word grievance can send shudders down the spine of a small/medium business owner.

Even if you have doubts about the underlying rationale for an employee’s grievance, it is essential that you address their concerns, so they don’t fester or lead to issues that may be more difficult to resolve.

From pay to discrimination, or harassment to a promotion decision: whatever it is an employee has come to you to complain about, you should take it seriously.

Whilst in theory grievances are a good opportunity to address employee concerns, in practice they are also a mechanism for negotiating exit from a business or for diverting attention away from a disciplinary matter.

The Acas Code of Practice for Disciplinary & Grievance Procedures is a really helpful and important document – have it to hand when you’re going through any grievance process. Acting in line with the Code goes to the fairness of any dismissals and can result in an increase to compensation by up to 25% if not followed.

Encourage an informal stage (via line management) in the first instance – but ensure managers are trained in how to respond.

If informal resolution isn’t possible, ask the employee to set out their grievance in writing, with as much detail as possible so you can understand what the concerns are.

A common issue is a disciplinary case that overlaps with a grievance, or a grievance raised in response to a disciplinary. Give careful thought (or take advice) if this happens to you – it may be right to pause the disciplinary while you deal with the grievance first; or if the facts of the cases are largely the same it may be right to deal with both at the same time.

There are two main stages in handling a grievance: investigation and hearing. Unlike a disciplinary, it can be helpful for the same person to do both stages.
Investigations can take place both before and after the hearing. You’ll need to include the employee and any witnesses to events they’re complaining about.

Don’t forget:

• An employee’s right to be accompanied at the meeting;
• To ask them what they’re seeking by way of resolution, before you reach any decision;
• To confirm the outcome in writing, but take care regarding confidentiality if those outcomes involve another employee (e.g. disciplinary action).
• To confirm the right of appeal (including timeframes) – ideally this will be led by someone not previously involved. An appeal can be done as a complete re-hearing, or a review of the original decision.

Many small employers choose to out-source aspects of dealing with a grievance: whether investigation, hearing or the appeal stage.

Sometimes directors, financial teams or senior managers are diverted from their main responsibilities to sorting out an HR mess or even spending disproportionate time managing the day-to-day HR function. But an expert costs less than you think, and can actually save you time and money. We can ensure compliance and minimise risks.

Our team is knowledgeable and approachable with an enviable track record. And as an SME ourselves, our team at Stephens Scown is well-versed in the challenges faced by businesses across the region.

Our CIPD qualified HR consultancy team of professionals can help you with:

• HR consultancy and on-site support, including running meetings and investigations, increasing your HR capacity, and helping you to deal with the pain of an unexpected employment issue. Benefit from the support of expert employment lawyers on a flexible basis – with your confidence protected by legal professional privilege.

• Bespoke HR training packages tailored to meet your specific circumstances and business challenges, including upskilling managers to avoid future issues.
We offer our clients the flexibility of expert HR support without the expense of employing a full-time HR manager. You’ll also get the extra reassurance of knowing that our guidance is backed up by highly regarded solicitors. In addition, many of our team have both legal and HR qualifications.

Do watch our Employment Law video for further information on handling a grievance: 

Mark Roby is a HR Adviser in our Employment team and an experienced HR Manager. To contact Mark, please call 01872 265100 or email