I’m not happy at work: should I present a formal grievance? article banner image

When trouble brews at work, it’s hard to know where to turn to and how to get the best outcome. When you are the employee, you can feel extremely vulnerable and disappointed that the place that you have committed your time and energy to is no longer happy or fulfilling. Sometimes you are also in shock that colleagues or managers you trusted have behaved in a way you find unacceptable.

You may be aware that every organisation is obliged to have a formal grievance policy, which complies with the relevant ACAS Code of Practice. This can usually be found on your employer’s intranet or in a staff handbook. Your contract of employment should confirm where it is kept and who to ask if you want a copy.

Your employer’s grievance policy may set out some informal ways to resolve disputes. It should also set out the formal grievance process, which in essence is:

  • You write down your grievance and submit it;
  • You attend a formal grievance meeting to talk through your concerns;
  • The person appointed to hear the grievance investigates your concerns, checks relevant data and if necessary interviews other relevant persons;
  • That person then writes an ‘outcome’ document confirming whether your grievance is upheld or if your grievance is not upheld; and finally
  • You can have the opportunity to appeal this process to a higher level of management.


Early resolution of workplace issues before they escalate is clearly the best outcome for you and your employer. Litigation is usually the worst outcome – uncertain, costly, time consuming, career-limiting and stressful.

The question is, does the formal grievance route make it more likely or not to resolve the trouble you have? It can be a big and daunting step to take. Could it actually make things worse?

We recommend you weigh up the following:

  • Advantages of the Formal Grievance Route
  • It shows the employer that this is a live issue that you are not simply going to ‘forget’.
  • There is a set process to follow, which helps if you feel uncomfortable addressing matters on an informal basis, or the informal basis has failed.
  • You get to set out your concerns in your own way and ask for solutions that are not able to given via a Tribunal – for example to change roles, for training, support or an apology.
  • The process requires the employer to listen to you at a meeting.  It may be that this in itself can help the dispute to be diffused and for you to be understood.
  • You get a defined outcome within a specific timescale. You also get the chance to have a second go at this with the appeal.
  • If a grievance is upheld, this may result in action being taken by the employer to prevent issues happening again: for example with whistleblowing or harassment cases.
  • It is a necessary step before taking any dispute to Employment Tribunal. Failing to submit one or not attend a grievance meeting can result in a 25% reduction in any compensation awarded.
  • Going through a grievance is time consuming for an employer, so can be a helpful bargaining tool if you wish to negotiate an agreed and favourable exit.


Disadvantages of the Formal Grievance Route

  • Your employer may see you as more hostile for taking this step. It is possible that you will face more unpleasantness at work even though there is legislation that seeks to stop this.
  • Formal grievances often result in the parties taking very polarized positions, with attitudes on both sides becoming entrenched. Sometimes certain allegations cannot be ‘unsaid’.
  • The format of the process means often the Employer is looking to defend itself rather than look actively for solutions.
  • Employers are often wary of making any admissions (as they could then be used against them at Tribunal), so tend only to admit things that do not give rise to legal liability. For example, by saying that ‘management decisions could have been better but that it was not discrimination’.
  • Formal grievances are very rarely upheld.  There is often support of managers over employees.  The employer does not always recommend positive action points from the grievance, even if it is not upheld.
  • It is unusual for an appeal outcome to differ from the original grievance outcome.
  • The employment relationship between the parties often suffers irretrievable damage and in many cases the employee leaves.

You may wish to consider whether there are any ways to resolve matters informally before submitting a formal grievance. It is not a sign of weakness to do so. Talk to your employer to see what they suggest and make any suggestions of your own. A good way of starting a discussion is to talk about the options going forward, focusing on solutions.

There is no reason why an employer cannot (if they wish) investigate your concerns outside a formal grievance process with a view to providing an explanation, a solution and even an apology for things that have gone wrong. You can also seek to negotiate what solution you want from an early stage or ask for the business to arrange for mediation by a third party.

Remember, threats, overstatements and aggression are best avoided when raising issues or defending allegations, especially if you wish to remain in employment with that Employer. It should be enough to state the facts, which speak for themselves, and explain the impact this has had on you.



Our experienced employment team can support you with this process and help you explore the options and best ways forward. Please do not hesitate to call or email if we can assist: employment@stephens-scown.co.uk or 01872 245100.