An employee grievance letter is a formal complaint, submitted to an employer in writing, that outlines an employee’s concern or problem at work. In a non-unionized workplace, grievances are simply formal complaints. In a unionized workplace, there are rules surrounding grievance-handling procedures.
It’s important to respond to every grievance in a timely, fair manner. Taking the proper grievance-handling steps promotes a culture of understanding in your workplace. In addition, it can save your organization’s reputation and bottom line.
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What is a Grievance?
In the workplace, “grievances are concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise with their employers.” Grievances differ from complaints, though, in their formality.
While an employee complaint can be made verbally, via a hotline or an email, a grievance must be formally filed in the form of a grievance letter, usually submitted to the employee’s manager within 30 days of the event or action that caused the issue.
Employees may submit grievance letters for a wide range of reasons, including:
- Compensation and benefits
- Employment and personnel policies
- Health and safety concerns
- Bullying, harassment or discrimination
- Workload or work distribution
- Work environment or conditions
- Management-employee relations
- Terms and conditions of employment
- Organizational changes
- New working practices
Responding to an Employee Grievance Letter: Step by Step
When an employee submits a grievance letter in a non-unionized workplace, their manager should first try to settle the issue informally. Conversely, unionized workplaces should follow union rules for grievance-handling. If the grievance is of a more serious nature or can’t be resolved, however, the formal resolution process begins.
Follow Policies and Procedures
Having strong policies and procedures surrounding grievance handling and following them consistently is essential. Consistency not only lets the employee know what to expect and streamlines the grievance handling process, but it can also protect your organization if the employee takes legal action. Write formal policies outlining the:
- grievance letter filing process
- investigation process
- meeting process
- employee’s right to accompaniment/representation at the grievance meeting
- employee’s right to appeal the organization’s decision
For help with writing effective policies and procedures, download our template here.
Schedule a Grievance Meeting
When an employee files a grievance letter, hold the resolution meeting within five business days. Before the meeting, inform the employee, in writing, about the details. Include the time and location of the meeting, who will hear the grievance and a note on the employee’s right to be accompanied by a fellow employee or union representative.
The grievance meeting should be held in a private, distraction-free location. In addition to the employee’s manager, a Human Resources team member and the employee’s optional representative, invite someone who isn’t involved with the case to take meeting notes.
Be sure to promote a relaxed, open atmosphere as you work toward a resolution. Encourage open discussion and dialogue. Allow the employee to reasonably “let off steam” without taking offense, too. Above all, maintaining a problem-solving approach helps ensure a quick resolution that works for everyone.
Make a Decision
After the grievance meeting, take a few days to decide on appropriate action to take. Try to see all sides of the issue. In addition, be willing to take any new information into account when making a decision. Further unbiased investigation may be required before you choose a course of action.
After coming to a decision, inform the employee (in writing) within five business days about the course of action. Additionally, explain why their grievance has not been upheld (if applicable) and remind them that they have the right to appeal the decision. After that, monitor and review the action to ensure that it effectively deals with the issue the employee raised.
Plan for an Appeal
If the employee is unhappy with the action taken after the grievance meeting, they may choose to file an appeal. Require that they submit their grounds for the appeal in writing.
The appeal meeting should have a similar format to the grievance meeting, but someone new (someone at the next level of management, for instance) should hear the appeal. Bring records and notes from the grievance meeting for review. Take particular note of new information that has come to light. After the meeting, inform the employee in writing of the results of the appeal and your reasoning and note that the decision is final.
A timely, fair and well-documented response to an employee grievance letter establishes your organization as a great place to work. Failure to address an employee’s concerns, on the other hand, may lead to reduced productivity, losing the employee or even a lawsuit.