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Grievance Procedure: Part 1 getting started

I have received a grievance from an employee what do I do now?

This is a summary of what you will need to do if you receive a grievance from an employee. The key thing to remember is that grievances should be dealt with as quickly as possible. The longer a grievance drags on the harder it will become to resolve amicably.

If you fail to deal with a grievance fairly and appropriately an employee could resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal on the basis that you have breached your obligation of trust and confidence.

1. Get a copy of your internal grievance procedure and or the ACAS Code (you can find a copy of the ACAS code here)

The ACAS code and your own internal grievance procedure (if you have one) should give you guidance on the process required.

If you have an internal grievance procedure contained in your staff handbook or policies and procedures it is important to check if this is a contractual procedure or non-contractual. If it is contractual and you fail to follow it the employee could have a claim for breach of contract.

If you fail to follow the ACAS Code and an employee brings a claim in the Employment Tribunal the Tribunal can consider your failure in terms of your reasonableness in handling matters and also adjust compensation by up to 25% for your failure.

You may also find it helpful to check out the ACAS Non-Statutory guide which you can find here. Although not legally binding the guide does provide some practical guidance on what you do.

2. Assign someone to investigate and deal with the grievance

Preferably this should be someone who has not been involved in the substance of the grievance and who can be said to be reasonably impartial.

If this is not possible because of the size of your business or the nature of the grievance you may consider getting someone external to deal with it for you. Contrary to popular belief you do not have to appoint an external investigator, but if there is no-one in your business who can be considered as impartial or removed from the substance of the grievance you should give serious consideration to doing so.

The ACAS investigations guide (which you can read here) sets out the following list of questions for employers to consider when choosing whom to appoint as an investigator:

  • Are they personally involved in the matter being investigated?
  • Would the appointment raise any conflict of interest concerns?
  • Are they likely to be influenced by people involved in the matter?
  • Might they be involved in any subsequent decision-making on the matter?
  • Do they have a good knowledge of the organisation and how it operates?
  • What is their availability during the investigation’s provisional time-frame?
  • Are they trained or experienced in how to conduct investigations?
  • How confident are they at communicating in writing and orally?

3. Acknowledge the grievance in writing

Write to the employee and inform them of the grievance process, sending a copy of any internal grievance procedure. Also inform them of the name and job title or status of the person who will be investigating and an idea of the likely timescale for completion or if not possible at that point, the timescale for the next contact.

4. Investigate the Grievance

The investigator needs to approach the investigation in a fair and objective manner with a view to establishing the key facts and reach a conclusion on what did or did not happen.

When investigating the grievance, it is important to ensure that you look at both evidence in support and evidence against the grievance. Try not to reach a conclusion from the outset.

It is recommended that you plan how you are going to investigate the grievance. ACAS have produced a template investigation plan you can find here or I have recreated below:

Investigation Plan



Terms of reference


Provisional time-frame
Policies and procedures to review and follow
Issues that need to be explored/clarified
Sources of evidence to be collected
Persons to be interviewed

(including planned order of interviews)

Investigation meetings further arrangements

(When/where/notes to be taken by)

Persons to supply own statement
Investigation meetings to be completed by
Collection of evidence to have been completed by
Further considerations

Although you certainly should not delay in investigating the issue it is important to balance speed with giving the issues due consideration and reflection.

If it is a complicated issue with numerous parties involved, then it could reasonably take several weeks to complete whereas a straightforward issue could be resolved more quickly.

If there are going to be delays in the completion of the grievance investigation then it is important to notify the employee as soon as possible, informing them of the new likely timescale and if appropriate the reason for the delay.

5. Try to ensure confidentiality

It can be very hard for the investigator to keep matters confidential but as much as possible the substance of the grievance and investigation should be keep confidential and only disclosed as necessary to persons involved.

Once the substance of a grievance becomes public knowledge or the subject of office gossip it can be very hard for the person who raised the grievance to deal with and may make the resolution of, for example, issues between staff much harder.

Even if you are interviewing a witness to the issues they do not have to be given a full run down of the substance of the grievance. The investigator should therefore take care and consideration to what information they are going to disclose.

Again contrary to popular belief, at the grievance investigation stage you do not have to disclose the full detail of the grievance to the person who is subject of the grievance. You need only disclose enough detail as is reasonable for them to be able to respond and for you to be able to fully investigate the issue.

If you need to obtain advice or support, then this should be obtained from a dedicated person from your HR department or external advisors. You should avoid seeking advice and reassurance from other managers.

6. Arrange investigation meetings

How to handle the investigation meeting will follow in the next  blog post which will be published on the 1st August 2016.

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The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

The guidance should not be relied upon in any decision making process. It is strongly recommended that you seek advice before taking action.

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