Treated unfairly at work? Here’s how to show your employer you mean business

When you’re treated badly at work and want your employer to make it right, it’s hard to know what to do next. 

Showing that you are organised and ready to take necessary action is the best way to show your employer you mean business – here’s how to do it.

Step 1: show that you know something’s wrong

The first step is to show your employer that you won’t let them get away with doing something wrong and that you expect them to do something about it.

Action: talk to someone 

Take the first step by talking to someone. It’s often best to try to sort things out informally if you can, so consider speaking to someone appropriate. If the issue is with your boss, for example, then you could speak to HR or another more senior colleague. Even if this doesn’t resolve your issue and you have to go to Tribunal later on, it’s a good sign that you made an effort to resolve the issue early on.  

Action: check your staff handbook 

Your employer has to follow rules when dealing with issues at work. Check your staff handbook to see what those rules are, and if your employer doesn’t have a staff handbook, ask them where they keep documentation of their procedures. For a disciplinary or grievance, for example, your employer needs to follow the ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures as a minimum. 

Read more about your employer’s obligations when you have a grievance at work

Action: follow the procedure

Once you know the rules, take the next step under the appropriate procedure. For example, if you decide to make a complaint about your boss under the grievance procedure, you can write a grievance letter to your employer. Here’s a guide about how to raise a grievance at work.

Once you’ve submitted the grievance letter, be well prepared to explain the key points of your grievance at the grievance meeting, and chase your employer for an outcome if they haven’t responded by the time limit set out in their own procedure, or if they take longer than a few days.

Step 2: show that you’re keeping track

Your employer is more likely to engage seriously with your issue if you can show them you’re keeping track of what is happening. We have a full guide to organising your case like a lawyer would, and here are the key steps:

Action: take notes

Take notes of every meeting or call you have. This includes meetings where something has happened that you want to complain about (for example, if your boss was undermining you). You can use these notes as evidence of what happened. It’s also really important to take notes of what happens in any formal meetings - for example, any grievance meetings. 

If you don’t have a chance to take notes in the moment, write them up as soon as possible afterwards - the Employment Tribunal may be suspicious of a note that is written up weeks after the event. Also consider whether you can bring a colleague along to take notes for you.

Write down the date and time of the meeting, and who attended. There’s no set format for doing this, as long as the notes are clear and legible. 

Action: follow up by email

Another way of keeping track is to send an email after important meetings to confirm what was discussed. This lets your employer know that you are writing things down and keeping track. You could start the email by saying something like “Just to confirm that we’re on the same page.”

Action: keep your records organised

Keep the notes and any emails/other records organised by date so that you can refer back to them to remember what was previously discussed, and also in case you need to use them as evidence, for example in an Employment Tribunal claim.

  • For notes, emails, or other records which you might use as evidence to support your grievance or Employment Tribunal claim, upload these to the ‘Evidence’ page in the Valla platform
  • For notes, emails, or other records that relate to the Employment Tribunal process, even if you don’t intend to use these as evidence, then you should store them just in case you need them later. You can use the ‘Progress Tracker’ in the Valla platform to help you do this. 

Step 3: show them how to make it right

Let your employer know how they can make this right. There’s no one solution here – some people want a settlement to give them closure and financial security, others want their old job back, and others want the validation of an Employment Tribunal judgment that sets out what their employer has done wrong. Here’s how to work through it:

Action: think about what you want

Have a think about what outcome you really want. For example, if you’re at the grievance stage, you might want to ask your employer to investigate the behaviour of a co-worker to decide whether to take disciplinary action. Alternatively, you might want something quite straightforward such as a formal apology from the co-worker. You might find it helpful to read our article about what you can ask for when you raise a grievance.

If you want a settlement, think about what terms you would like. For example, how much would you be prepared to settle for, and why? For example, does this cover a certain number of months’ lost wages, or a potential award for injury to feelings? Do you want any non-financial terms, like an agreed reference, or keeping your company phone?

If you’re taking the case to Tribunal, look at previous decisions and think about what outcome you might get. What are your chances of winning the case? What do you think the Tribunal could award you in terms of compensation or other outcomes? Also, how do you feel about the fact that if you go to a Final Hearing, the decision will be published online? 

Action: do your research

It can be hard to know what you want without knowing all of the options open to you. Use the ‘Goal’ page on the Valla platform to research and note down your goals. 

If you can, try to get some legal advice on what you might be able to get as an outcome in your case. Getting legal advice at an early stage could help to put you on the right track. Citizens Advice can also help with this, as well as ACAS’s helpline

Action: tell your employer

Once you know what you want, communicate this with your employer. For example:

  • if you’re at the grievance stage, tell your employer what outcome you want from the grievance
  • if you want to settle, send your employer a “without prejudice” letter (explained below)
  • if you want to make a Tribunal claim, contact ACAS and agree to them contacting your employer to start Early Conciliation

Also, don’t be afraid to pursue two different processes at once. Whilst a lot of people settle before they even make a claim to the Employment Tribunal, it’s also very common to negotiate a settlement at the same time as going through the grievance or Employment Tribunal process.

Step 4: show them you’re prepared to make a claim

If you’ve got to the stage where you think it might be necessary to make a claim in the Employment Tribunal, then you should make this clear to your employer. 

Perhaps you’ve tried starting your employer’s internal procedures, like a grievance procedure or disciplinary procedure, but you haven’t got the outcome you wanted. Or perhaps you’re in the middle of going through an internal process, but it’s taking a while and you don’t want to run out of time to make a Tribunal claim. Read our article on timescales here. 

Whatever your situation, if you’ve got this far then you need to show your employer you’re really prepared to make a claim. If your employer knows that you are at the stage of actually thinking about claiming, then this is likely to make them concerned about what will happen next. A lot of employers use lawyers to defend Employment Tribunal claims, and so if your employer is facing the prospect of racking up legal fees in the near future, they might be more amenable to giving you the result that you want - whether that’s a fair settlement, an improved working environment, or something else. 

Here are 3 key actions to take to show your employer that you’re prepared to make a claim.

Action: consider filing a DSAR

You might find it useful to file a data subject access request (often called a “DSAR” or just a “SAR” or “subject access request”). Making a DSAR request is a way of asking your employer for copies of your personal data that they hold, including conversations and emails about you. This could be useful if there is specific information that you want from your employer that you think is relevant to your complaint. 

This is especially relevant if you’ve been kicked out of the company’s systems and you no longer have access to your emails or other company documents. When your employer gets a request for a DSAR, they will realise that you know your rights and that you want to take action to do something about it. 

Bear in mind though that it can take a while for a response to a DSAR to come through - your employer has one month to respond, but they can often extend this. Read more about the timescales for responding to DSARs here.

If you are trying to mend the relationship with your employer, then be wary of hitting them with a DSAR request, and the timing of doing so.

Action: consider sending a without prejudice letter

If you’re interested in trying to settle your potential claim before making a claim to the Employment Tribunal, you might want to consider sending a without prejudice letter.

This can be a really effective way of getting a settlement. It basically means writing to your employer setting out what has happened to you and offering not to make a claim against them if they agree to settle the matter. 

You should head the letter “without prejudice.” This means that you intend the letter to be “off the record” and that it shouldn’t be referred to in any subsequent Employment Tribunal litigation. 

If you have a number in mind, feel free to go into specifics of how much you are proposing to settle for. For example, if you think you would be able to claim for discrimination and you estimate it will take you 6 months to get another job, you could say that you would be prepared to accept 6 months’ loss of wages in return for not pursuing your potential claim.   

Action: contact ACAS

If you’re ready to start the Employment Tribunal process, then you’ll usually need to contact ACAS first. This starts the process of Early Conciliation. 

If you agree, ACAS will get in touch with your employer to see if they’d be willing to discuss settlement with you, before you make your Tribunal claim. 

For a lot of employers, once they hear that you have contacted ACAS, they will be likely to redouble their efforts to stop the case going further. This can therefore be a great point to settle your case, if that’s what you want to do.   

Final step: use Valla to show your employer you mean business

By taking the actions set out in this article, you can really show your employer that you mean business when it comes to dealing with your employment issue.

A lot of this comes down to staying organised and always thinking one step ahead. With Valla, you can manage your employment case from start to finish, to help you work towards the result that you want. If you need help or advice, you can also share your case with others.

Get started today by using Valla’s ‘Task List’ page to note down all of the actions you’re going to take. 

Sign up for your free, confidential account here. 

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When you're standing up to your employer, it's all about leverage. Find out how to identify your leverage, build a solid argument, review your options and take the next step.

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