How to raise a formal grievance

Raising a formal grievance can help to resolve workplace issues, or can be the first step to taking your case to an Employment Tribunal.

Why raise a grievance?

If you’re unhappy with a situation at work, and you’re not getting anywhere through informal channels, you can raise a formal grievance against your employer by writing a letter. In most cases, you should do this before considering going to an Employment Tribunal. 

The process of writing your grievance and gathering evidence also means you will be well prepared if you do choose to take your case to Tribunal.

When should I go straight to Tribunal?

In most cases, you should raise a grievance before going to Tribunal. However, there are some circumstances when you might not want to raise a formal grievance first, for example if:

  • the working relationship with your employer has completely broken down
  • there is no-one senior in your company who you trust to be impartial
  • you have already left the employer (although you can still raise a grievance in these circumstances, your employer may not deal with it)

Timescales

Your employer’s grievance procedure might set out specific time limits for each stage of the process. 

Otherwise, they need to act ‘without unreasonable delay’, so for an informal or formal grievance, you should often expect to hear back within a few days.

It’s worth raising your grievance as soon as possible, because if you’re not happy with the response to your formal grievance and want to go to Tribunal, you have limited time to submit your claim form. Starting from the date that the incident last happened, you have three months less one day (although this can sometimes be extended) to make a claim to Tribunal. The time limit still applies even if you are bringing a grievance, so you should make sure that you don’t run out of time while going through the  grievance procedure.

What to do first

Check your employer’s grievance procedure

You should have been made aware of your employer’s grievance procedure when you started the job. It should be easy to find in your staff handbook or intranet. Otherwise, ask your manager or HR department. This might be specific to  your employer, or they might use the ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures, which sets out the minimum legal requirements. 

Raise things informally

It’s usually better to raise the issue informally first, by speaking to your manager - or to their manager or HR department if the complaint is about your manager. 

If they don’t respond, or you’re not happy with how they respond, you can move on to submitting a formal grievance.

Writing the grievance letter

To raise a formal grievance, you need to write a letter to the person named in your employer’s grievance procedure. 

How do I send the letter?

You can send your letter by post or email. 

  • If emailing, it’s often best to add the letter as a separate attachment, so that it’s easier to refer to in future
  • If posting, make sure you keep a copy - ideally a digital one - of the final, dated, letter

Who do I send it to?

Your company’s grievance procedure should tell you who to address the complaint to. Usually this will be your boss, unless the complaint is about your boss, in which case you should write to an impartial senior staff member, or to your HR department (if there is one).

It’s a good idea to copy HR into the letter, whoever it’s addressed to. 

Wording

Although there is no legally required wording, you need to make clear that this is a formal grievance, for example using:

  • ‘Formal grievance letter’ as the email heading
  • ‘I am writing to raise a formal grievance’ as the start of the letter

Make sure you cover the basics:

  • your name
  • job title
  • contact details
  • name, job title and contact details of the manager you are writing to.

Stick to the facts

At the beginning of the letter, set out exactly what you are complaining about - for example, if you feel you have been unfairly treated at work because of your age or gender, say so.

Once you have set out your complaint, you need to go through all of the facts that relate to it. Keep it relevant and succinct, with a neutral tone. You will get the chance to expand on things later in the process. 

Make sure you include:

  • date(s) of any incidents - if there was more than one incident, set these out in date order, focusing on the most significant and recent incidents
  • why you think the treatment was unfair. It can be helpful to point to an example where you can show you were treated differently from someone else
  • what the impact of what’s happened has been on you
  • how you’ve tried to resolve the issue yourself, including raising things informally

You don’t need to reference specific parts of legislation at this stage, but it can be useful to include a legal basis for your complaint if you can point to one.

For example:  

What do you want from your complaint?

Be clear what you want to happen after you raise your grievance. 

This might include:

  • a change to your working setup
  • a change to the company’s procedures
  • a formal apology
  • further investigation

It’s also helpful to give your employer a time limit to reply, remembering that you only have three months (less one day) from the incident if you want to go to Tribunal.

Refer to evidence

Witnesses: If there are any colleagues who witnessed the unfair treatment, you can include their names in the letter as witnesses. You can suggest your employer talks to them when investigating your complaint, or ask them to write a statement for you to attach to the letter.

Written evidence: if you have emails or other documents that back up your complaint, it can be useful to attach these. Make sure your letter explains the attachments.

What next?

Your employer should come back to you soon after you have sent the grievance letter, to arrange a formal grievance meeting with you. You will get an outcome letter after this meeting.

What is my employer required to do when I make a tribunal claim against them?

If the letter dismisses all or part of your grievance, you can appeal. If you’re still not happy, you can take your case to Tribunal.

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