Define: Grievance

Quick Summary of Grievance

In the world of work, a grievance is a formal statement of complaint, generally against an authority figure. Procedures for grievances are common in unionised organisations.

In many countries, labour unions typically include a Grievance Committee, or Griefcom, which handles members’ complaints against management.

In a unionised organisation, a grievance is a written complaint against the employer, usually filed by a union steward on behalf of a local union member. It is typically understood as any difference arising out of the interpretation, application, administration or alleged violation of the collective bargaining agreement that is in effect at the place of employment, but it can also concern violations of common law, such as workplace safety regulations or a human rights code.

Ordinarily, unionised workers must ask their operations managers for time during work hours to meet with a shop steward to discuss the problem, which may or may not result in a grievance. Mediation, arbitration, or legal remedies may be employed if the grievance cannot be resolved through negotiation between labour and management. Typically, everyone involved with a grievance has strict timelines that must be met in processing this formal complaint until it is resolved. Employers cannot legally treat an employee differently, whether he or she has filed a grievance. The difference between a grievance and a complaint in the unionised workplace is whether the subject matter relates to the collective bargaining agreement.

The term is also used outside the work context. A substantial section of the United States Declaration of Independence includes an enumerating the colonists’ grievances against the “Present King of Great Britain” (George III). The First Amendment guarantees the people’s right to petition the government to redress grievances, a significant component of American political tradition. An example of the federal government’s approval of grievance mediation is that the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service makes its commissioners available to the labour and management communities at no charge.

What is the dictionary definition of Grievance?
Dictionary Definition of Grievance

A grievance refers to a formal complaint or dissatisfaction expressed by an individual or group regarding a perceived injustice, unfair treatment, or violation of rights in the workplace or other organised setting. Grievances typically arise when an individual feels aggrieved by actions, policies, or decisions made by employers, managers, or other authority figures that adversely affect their employment, working conditions, or rights. Grievance procedures are often established by employers or organisations to provide a structured mechanism for employees to voice their concerns, seek resolution, and address grievances in a fair and impartial manner. This may involve submitting a written complaint, meeting with supervisors or management, conducting investigations, and providing opportunities for mediation or arbitration to resolve disputes. Effective grievance procedures aim to promote transparency, accountability, and fairness in addressing workplace issues, maintaining positive employee relations, and preventing conflicts from escalating into more serious disputes or legal actions.

Full Definition Of Grievance

A grievance is a formal complaint raised by an employee against an employer or another employee within an organisation. Grievances can arise from various situations, including perceived injustices, breaches of contract, discrimination, harassment, or disputes over work conditions and policies. Addressing grievances promptly and effectively is crucial for maintaining a healthy work environment and ensuring compliance with legal standards. This overview provides a detailed examination of the legal framework surrounding grievances in the UK, including the relevant legislation, the grievance process, and the implications for both employers and employees.

Legal Framework

In the UK, the primary pieces of legislation governing grievances are:

  1. Employment Rights Act 1996: This Act provides employees with a broad range of rights, including the right not to be unfairly dismissed and a written statement of employment particulars. It underlies many aspects of grievance procedures.
  2. Equality Act 2010: This Act consolidates and simplifies previous anti-discrimination laws. It prohibits discrimination, harassment, and victimisation based on protected characteristics such as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.
  3. Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974: This legislation imposes duties on employers to ensure their employees’ health, safety, and welfare at work as far as reasonably practicable.
  4. The Employment Act 2008 includes provisions related to resolving workplace disputes and the role of employment tribunals.

Grievance Procedure

Informal Resolution

Often, the first step in addressing a grievance is through informal resolution. Many issues can be resolved through open communication between employees and their immediate supervisor or manager. Employers are encouraged to foster an environment where employees feel comfortable raising concerns without fear of retaliation.

Formal Grievance Process

When informal resolution is not possible or appropriate, the formal grievance process is initiated. The process typically involves the following steps:

  1. Submission of Grievance: The employee submits a written grievance to their employer detailing the nature of the complaint, the events that led to it, and any evidence supporting their claim. The grievance should be specific and provide sufficient detail for a thorough investigation.
  2. Acknowledgement: The employer acknowledges receipt of the grievance and provides an outline of the grievance procedure, including timelines and the process for investigation.
  3. Investigation: An impartial investigator, an internal manager or an external consultant is appointed to investigate the grievance. The investigator gathers evidence, interviews relevant parties, and reviews pertinent documentation.
  4. Grievance Hearing: A formal hearing is conducted where the employee can present their case, and the employer can respond. Both parties may present evidence and call witnesses. A coworker or a trade union representative is typically welcome to accompany the employee.
  5. Decision: Following the hearing, the employer decides based on the evidence presented. The decision is communicated to the employee in writing, outlining the findings and any actions to be taken.
  6. Appeal: Employees who are dissatisfied with the outcome can appeal the decision. The appeal should be submitted in writing, and a separate appeal hearing should be arranged, often involving a different decision-maker to ensure impartiality.

Legal Implications

Employment Tribunal

The employee may take their complaint to an employment tribunal if the organisation does not satisfactorily resolve a grievance. Employment tribunals are independent judicial bodies that resolve disputes between employers and employees over employment rights. Common claims include unfair dismissal, discrimination, and breaches of contract.

Constructive Dismissal

Failure to address grievances adequately can lead to claims of constructive dismissal. Constructive dismissal occurs when an employee resigns due to the employer’s conduct, making continued employment untenable. To claim constructive dismissal, the employee must demonstrate that the employer’s actions amounted to a fundamental breach of contract.

Discrimination and Harassment

Grievances involving discrimination or harassment are particularly serious, as they can lead to significant legal and reputational consequences for the employer. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are liable for discrimination and harassment committed by their employees unless they can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent such behaviour. Employers must ensure their grievance procedures comply with anti-discrimination laws and provide appropriate support to victims of discrimination or harassment.


Employees who raise concerns about wrongdoing within their organisation may be protected under whistleblowing laws. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 protects whistleblowers from detriment or dismissal if they report certain types of wrongdoing, such as criminal activity, health and safety risks, or environmental damage. Grievances involving whistleblowing must be handled with particular care to uphold the employee’s legal protections.

Best Practices for Employers

Employers can mitigate the risk of grievances and ensure compliance with legal requirements by adopting best practices in their grievance procedures.

  1. Clear Policies and Procedures: Employers should have clear, written grievance policies and procedures that are easily accessible to all employees. These should outline the steps for raising and handling grievances, the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved, and the timelines for each process stage.
  2. Training: Managers and supervisors should receive regular training on handling grievances, recognising signs of workplace issues, and understanding the legal implications of grievances. This helps ensure grievances are addressed promptly and appropriately.
  3. Fair and Impartial Investigation: Investigations should be conducted impartially, and decisions should be based on evidence. Employers should consider involving external investigators or mediators in complex or sensitive cases.
  4. Confidentiality: Confidentiality is crucial in grievance procedures to protect all parties’ privacy and encourage employees to come forward with their concerns. Employers should communicate their confidentiality policies and ensure they are adhered to throughout the process.
  5. Support for Employees: Employers should support employees who raise grievances by providing them access to counselling services or employee assistance programmes. This helps to mitigate the stress and anxiety that can accompany grievance procedures.
  6. Regular Review: Grievance policies and procedures should be reviewed regularly to ensure they remain up-to-date with current legislation and best practices. Employers should also seek feedback from employees to identify areas for improvement.


Grievances are an inevitable part of the employment relationship, but they can be managed effectively through clear policies, fair procedures, and a commitment to resolving issues promptly. By understanding the legal framework surrounding grievances and implementing best practices, employers can foster a positive work environment, minimise the risk of legal disputes, and ensure compliance with their legal obligations.

Addressing grievances properly helps maintain workplace harmony and reinforces the organisation’s commitment to fair treatment and employee respect. As the legal landscape continues to evolve, employers must stay informed of changes and adapt their grievance procedures accordingly to ensure ongoing compliance and the well-being of their workforce.

Related Phrases
No related content found.

This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 15th June 2024.

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

  • Page URL:
  • Modern Language Association (MLA):Grievance. DLS Solicitors. June 20 2024
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):Grievance. DLS Solicitors. (accessed: June 20 2024).
  • American Psychological Association (APA):Grievance. Retrieved June 20 2024, from website:
Avatar of DLS Solicitors
DLS Solicitors : Family Law Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

All author posts