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Grievance a three-step process

Grievances are concerns, problems or complaints that employees can raise with their employers.

Statutory disciplinary and grievance procedures were introduced in Northern Ireland in April 2005. Since then all employers, regardless of how many employees they have, must provide their employees with information about the grievance procedure. Workers who are not employees, such as sub-contractors, casual workers or freelancers, do not have to follow the statutory grievance procedure.

Employees should always aim to resolve any grievance informally first.

A grievance is defined as "a complaint by an employee about an action their employer has taken, or is contemplating taking, in relation to them". This covers actions that could amount to discrimination or constructive dismissal, although the employer's actions could include investigatory suspensions.

If a grievance cannot be resolved informally, the employee should raise it for- mally through the employer's grievance procedure (or statutory grievance procedure).

In most cases, an employee will not be able to make a claim to an industrial tribunal unless they have first raised a grievance with their employer under the statutory grievance procedure and have allowed 28 days to pass.

The standard statutory grievance procedure is a three-step process:
- Step 1: the employee must tell the employer in writing that they have a grievance.

The legislation does not set out how the employee must set out the letter, however the Labour Relations Agency provides sample letters on its website.

Employees should indicate at this stage if their grievance is because they believe they are being discriminated against.
- Step 2: the employer must invite the employee to a meeting to discuss the grievance as soon as possible.

The employee must take all reasonable steps to attend this meeting. The employee has a right to be accompanied to this and any appeal meeting by a work colleague or a trade union official.

After the meeting the employer must inform the employee of their decision in response to the grievance within a reasonable time and notify the employee of their right to appeal against the decision if they are not satisfied with it.

The employee must make their request for an appeal within a reasonable time of receiving the employer's decision.
- Step 3: the employer must hold an appeal meeting if the employee wishes to appeal.

The employee must take all reasonable steps to attend the appeal, which should be held by a more senior manager.

If an employee has left their employment before raising the grievance there is a modified grievance procedure which can be used provided the employee and employer have agreed this in writing.

The legislation does not state what is considered 'reasonable' in relation to the various steps in the grievance process regarding time scales, however the Labour Relations Agency code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures gives suggestions as to what may be deemed reasonable.

There are a number of situations where the grievance procedure does not apply at all, for example the employer has dismissed or is contemplating dismissing the employee.

To facilitate resolution of grievances which are covered by the three step procedure the Industrial Tribunal may, in certain circumstances, extend the normal time limits for submitting claims by an additional three months.

Further information on the statutory disciplinary and grievance procedures is available from your local CAB or the Labour Relations Agency on 028 9032 1442 (www.lra.org.uk).

Lucy Cochrane is an information and policy officer with Citizens Advice.

Belfast Telegraph