Effective Grievance Handling: The Ultimate Guide for Employers

Grievance handling in the workplace takes careful planning. Use this guide to learn how to improve employee satisfaction and protect your company.

In 2023, 16 employees of “The Tonight Show” filed grievances claiming that the show’s working environment was hostile and, in some cases, damaging to their mental health.

NBC, the show’s host network, issued a statement, saying, “We are incredibly proud of The Tonight Show, and providing a respectful working environment is a top priority. As in any workplace, we have had employees raise issues; those have been investigated and action has been taken where appropriate. As is always the case, we encourage employees who feel they have experienced or observed behavior inconsistent with our policies to report their concerns so that we may address them accordingly.” In this case, NBC was smart to investigate the employees’ concerns quickly and encourage a culture where speaking up about concerns feels safe.

When an employee raises a real concern in your organization, don’t brush it off as just another complaint. Addressing employee grievances quickly, respectfully and consistently protects both your employees and your company’s reputation.

So, what are the steps of a grievance procedure? Read on for a thorough grievance handling guide.


What’s the importance of handling grievances effectively?

They may lead to human resources investigations. Learn how case management software can make your investigations faster and more effective in our free eBook.

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What is an Employee Grievance?

The definition of an employee grievance varies depending on what resource you consult. According to PlusHR, “grievances are concerns, problems, or complaints that employees raise with their employers.”

The Society for Human Resource Management defines it further, saying a grievance is “a claim by an employee that he or she is adversely affected by the misinterpretation or misapplication of a written company policy or collectively bargained agreement.”

In essence, a grievance is any work-related complaint or concern an employee raises with their employer with the hopes of resolving the issue.


A quick response builds trust with the aggrieved employee.

Use our employee grievance letter response template to send the employee a timely and sensitive reply.

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Types of Employee Grievances

Grievance handling in the workplace means addressing a wide range of issues. Employees may file grievances concerning:

  • Compensation and benefits (e.g., pay equity, salary that doesn’t match responsibility)
  • Terms and conditions of employment (e.g., expected hours of work or assigned tasks not accurately represented in contract)
  • Employment and personnel policies (e.g., hiring procedures, merit-based bonus structures)
  • Workload and work distribution (e.g., unfair distribution of work, no overtime pay for extra hours)
  • Management-employee relations (e.g., no communication access to management, no transparency
  • Health and safety concerns (e.g., malfunctioning equipment, poor lighting in workspace)
  • Bullying, harassment, or discrimination (e.g., coworker stalking, hazing rituals, workplace violence)
  • Organizational changes (e.g., moved to new department or role without consent)
  • New workplace conditions (e.g., office moved to an inaccessible location, new office building contains allergens)


Because grievance handling covers such a variety of concerns and complaints, having a streamlined management process is essential. With strong policies and procedures and an effective case management solution, you can easily handle grievances for any size of company.


Writing Strong Policies and Procedures

Before an issue arises, make sure that you have clear grievance handling policies and procedures in place. These documents let employees know what to expect when they file a grievance. In addition, they protect your organization should the employee file a lawsuit.

Your grievance handling policy should include:

  • Your organization’s definition of a grievance with examples
  • Scope of the policy
  • Employees’ rights (to be accompanied/represented during the process, to appeal decisions
  • Your obligations as an employer


Grievance handling procedures should list processes for:

  • Filing a grievance
  • Investigating a grievance
  • Grievance resolution meetings
  • Appeals


A strong grievance handling policy can streamline your grievance management as well as protect your company in the wake of a lawsuit.


Need help writing your grievance handling policy?

Use our checklist to know what to include.

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Grievance Handling Procedures

When addressing employee grievances, you’ll need to work quickly to keep minor issues from turning into major problems.

Your top priority should be to document every step of the grievance handling process. This not only protects your organization if the employee files a lawsuit, but also assures consistency when addressing future employee grievances.


Grievance Filing Methods

Customize employee grievance filing methods to the size of your organization and your employees’ needs.

You may ask employees to file a grievance directly with Human Resources or contact their manager about it first. A formal, dated grievance letter may be required. On the other hand, you might allow employees to file grievances using an online portal.

Many organizations require employees to file their grievance no later than 30 days after the most recent action that caused the problem.

All grievance reports should include

  • Employee’s full name
  • Date of the grievance
  • Date(s) of incident(s)
  • Summary of their complaints
  • Witness details
  • Copies of supporting documents for the investigation
  • Details of action steps taken to solve the issue, if any
  • Employee’s preferred resolution


Upon receiving the grievance letter, determine if the grievance is timely and if it fits into the scope of the company’s grievance policy. Decide if all of the information required to resolve the issue is included, too.


Informal Resolution

If your workplace is not unionized, consider asking employees to try to informally resolve their grievances before filing a formal complaint. This is not always possible, however. Still, many issues can easily be resolved between the employee and their manager without going through the formal grievance handling process.

For example, say your office moved across town. An employee who has no car and used to live close to the office would now have to commute over an hour on public transit. If she files a grievance, she and her manager might be able to resolve the problem by allowing her to work remotely all or some of the time.

Grievances of a serious nature should always be dealt with formally. Cases that concern physical safety, such as assault or a workplace hazard, or that put the organization at risk (e.g., fraud or compliance lapses) should be handled quickly and professionally.


Grievance Meeting Procedures

After an employee files a grievance, plan the resolution meeting for no more than five working days afterwards. This shows your commitment to resolving the issue quickly.

Hold the meeting in a private, distraction-free environment. Try to find a meeting room with blinds or frosted windows and doors that close. If you work in an open-concept workspace, find a spot that is away from the busiest areas of the office.

Before the meeting, communicate to the employee the meeting’s details in writing. Include the time and date of the meeting, where it will be held and who will hear the grievance. In addition, remind the employee of their right to be accompanied.

The meeting should involve the aggrieved employee, their optional representative, the employee’s manager and an HR team member, as well as a notetaker who is not involved with the case. Promote an open, relaxed atmosphere and encourage discussion as you ask your grievance investigation questions.

Similarly, allow the employee to vent (within reason) without acting defensive in response. As long as they aren’t physically or psychologically violent toward anyone else in the room, they should be allowed to express their anger or disappointment. Having a problem-solving attitude will help you see the employee’s point of view as you work toward a resolution.


Investigation and Decision

After the grievance meeting, take up to five more business days to come to a decision. During this time, use any new information that came to light in the meeting to further investigate the grievance.

Keep lines of communication open with the aggrieved employee throughout the grievance handling process. Be available to listen to questions and concerns.

If the employee doesn’t feel that their concerns have been addressed adequately, they may lose productivity, leave your company or even take legal action. A mishandled grievance could also cause a decline in morale among other employees, so be sure to take the process seriously.

Human Resources and management should work together to decide what action (if any) to take in response to the grievance. Try to find a permanent solution to the problem rather than providing a “band-aid fix” that doesn’t address the root cause.

For example, if an employee complains of harassment by their manager, ensure all managers receive harassment training. This reduces the likelihood that a similar issue will come up again.

After a decision is made, communicate it to the employee in writing as soon as possible. If the grievance is not upheld, explain why. Remind the employee that they have the option to appeal the decision if they do not agree with it. No matter what happens, offer support and resources to the employee to ease their transition (e.g., more frequent manager meetings, suggested therapists, support groups).

If you take corrective actions, be sure to monitor and review them to see if they’ve been effective. Based on this data, you know what to do (or not do) if a similar grievance is filed in the future.


Appeal and the Final Decision

If the aggrieved employee wishes to appeal your decision, require that they submit their grounds in writing. Then, schedule an appeal meeting that follows a similar format to the resolution meeting.

Save time by coming up with a few different options to suggest should the employee choose to appeal. You can bring these up in the discussion at the appeal meeting.

Someone at the next level of management should hear the appeal, if possible (e.g., Head of HR rather than working-level HR employee). Bring documents and records from the resolution meeting for reference and review. Most importantly, pay attention to any new information or evidence. Within five business days of the meeting, communicate your decision to the employee, noting that it is final.


Unionized vs. Non-unionized Workplaces

Filing grievances may be different for unionized vs. non-unionized workplaces and workers.

For example, in a non-unionized workplace, a grievance is little more than a formally submitted complaint. In a unionized workplace, though, there is a more formal grievance filing process that requires the employee to submit their concerns through the union instead of directly to their employer.

Representation in a grievance meeting may also look different. Non-unionized employees may request to bring a coworker, manager or other witness to accompany them to the meeting for support and advice.

On the other hand, unionized employees will likely be accompanied by a union representative or another official employed by the union. Their role is more specific, as they are there to ensure you are following the agreements/guidelines of the union and not violating the employee’s rights.


Tips for Successful Grievance Handling

When dealing with employee grievances, you might experience emotions ranging from fear to anger to enlightenment. Keeping a calm, positive attitude and following your grievance handling policies and procedures will help you reach a resolution that satisfies everyone.

  • Don’t take anything personally. Most of the time, employees are not trying to be malicious toward you or your organization. They have a genuine concern about their safety or well-being. Take a step back and try to see things from their perspective.
  • Stick to the subject at hand. A grievance meeting is not the time to bring up other issues. Focus on resolving the concerns outlined in the grievance without getting sidetracked or assigning blame. Ensure the aggrieved employee sticks to the scope of the grievance as well, as you can only resolve one issue at a time.
  • Respond to the grievance quickly. Employees want to feel heard. A fast response 


According to a survey by XpertHR, nearly one-third of organizations have seen an uptick in employee grievances over the past two years. Their main concerns are bullying/harassment and relationships with managers and colleagues. Prevent grievances in these areas proactively by promoting an ethical, transparent workplace culture.


How Case IQ Can Help

“Workplace mediators are seeing a significant increase in employee disputes being referred for mediation after a grievance has been raised, indicating that employees are favoring formal ‘complaints’ processes over earlier, informal resolution,” says Anna Shields, co-founder of workplace mediation company Consensio Partners.

If you’re still simply reacting to employee complaints, grievances, and incidents, you’re putting your organization, your staff, and your reputation at risk. With Case IQ’s powerful grievance tracking software, you can increase oversight, track and manage investigations, and report on results for better risk management and prevention.

Case IQ’s award-winning reporting tool highlights trends and hot spots in investigation data, helping you identify your areas of risk. Use this insight to focus preventive measures and improve your program.

Learn more about how Case IQ’s grievance tracking system can improve your organization’s investigations here.


Important: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. This post should not be taken as legal advice or used as a substitute for such. You should always speak to your own lawyer.