What is a grievance (and why they can happen in a small business)

Grievances are essentially formal complaints against you, somebody in your team, or your workplace 👎

As an employer, it’s likely you’re going to receive at least one in your lifetime. After all, employees are JUST people. And human beings can often find a reason to complain, right? Likewise, bosses aren’t perfect either!

In this blog, I bring to life some of the most common reasons why employees raise grievances. Armed with this information, you should be able to help nip them in the bud in your company 👌


As a small business owner, you might get complaints from time to time. Perhaps about how cold the office is, or how much of a nightmare one of your customers is. That’s par for the course!

However, as soon as the complaint is made in writing to you, it becomes a grievance. In other words, it gets formal.

Grievances can be made by one person (an individual grievance), or by a group of employees (a collective grievance).

Most issues can and should be sorted out informally as a starter for ten. You’d expect an employee to raise a problem informally first – to give you an opportunity to resolve the issue. If this doesn’t work, your staff member has every right to raise a formal grievance with you.


Grievances should NEVER be ignored. They should absolutely be taken seriously. Even if you personally doubt the validity of the complaint being made.

In fact, if you receive one, you need to follow a very specific procedure as outlined by acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service).

This is the law! ⚖

The high-level process, in a nutshell, is as follows:

👉You receive the complaint in writing

👉You hold a hearing

👉You investigate it

👉You inform your employee of the outcome of your investigations

👉Your employee can then appeal your decision

Honest. Supportive. Fair. They’re the characteristics of a responsible employer who takes grievances seriously and tries to sort them out in a compliant way.

If you bury your head in the sand, drag your heels, or fail to follow the right process, your employee could take you to an employment tribunal. And no small business owner wants that! 😱



In my experience, grievances related to rubbish behaviours are sadly a common occurrence.

Take bullying and harassment for example. An employee may claim that you, or somebody who works for you, has been spreading nasty gossip about them because of their sexual orientation. This is harassment, and it’s against the law.

Discrimination is another example of where unacceptable behaviours can lead to grievances and even employment tribunals. For example, a member of staff may claim you exclude them from team get-togethers because they’re female.

Often, bosses unconsciously behave in a way that they believe to be acceptable. That’s where they slip up. What was meant as “office banter” has made an employee feel upset or scared.


I once had a client who had a collective grievance put to her 😱

It was a team of engineers who claimed they weren’t told regularly enough how they were doing against their targets – and therefore – didn’t have enough of an opportunity to earn their bonus.

At the end of the day, people come to work to earn money. So, it’s always going to be a tricky topic if pay is not awarded fairly or handled properly.

Grievances around pay and rewards are up there in the top ten reasons why staff may complain. Being unfairly paid – in comparison to others – is an extremely hot topic 🔥


Another client of mine received a grievance from an employee who hurt her fingers at a trade show. Apparently, a marketing stand had fallen down and hit her hand, resulting in a hospital visit.

It was a pure accident. Yet, the employee claimed that her boss hadn’t done any risk assessments and had put her team in danger as a result.

As an employee, you have a duty of care to your people. If you take shortcuts around health and safety, you’re massively leaving yourself open to complaints and much worse ⚠


Grievances can be SOOO bad for your business. Especially if you have limited time and resources to handle them.

When you’re in a small business, it’s more likely to affect morale too. Especially if you all work closely together it can be super awkward.

Not to mention the cost if your employee takes you to a tribunal and you’re forced to cough up compensation.


You have a legal obligation to provide your employees with a grievance policy. Did you know that?

In other words, a document that stipulates how complaints are handled in your workplace – including the procedure you’ll follow to get them resolved (if they can be) 🤞

If you haven’t already got a policy, then please go to my online shop and DOWNLOAD ONE that you can personalise for your business.

MY GRIEVANCE TOOLKIT also contains all the templates you’ll need to handle the complaint from start to finish. Including letter templates and investigation report templates. 

Grievance Bundle


☝ It’s likely that as a small business owner, you’ll have to deal with at least one grievance

🖋 Most complaints can be sorted out informally. But if not, when you receive a formal complaint in writing, it means you must follow the right procedures, as set out by acas

🔥 Avoiding the grievance, dragging your heels, or handling it in the wrong way, can get you into hot water with the law

🤔 To stand a better chance of preventing them from happening in your workplace, understand the reasons WHY employees raise grievances

😱 And what’s more, be aware why they’re bad for business

🔐 To protect yourself and your business, makes sure you have a grievance policy in place

🛒 Visit my online shop to discover what tools and templates I offer to help small business owners like you to prevent and manage grievances

Mandy Hamerla

Virtual HR Director & Leadership Mentor. I create game-changing HR & Hiring Strategies for ambitious small businesses in the UK and support you to lead your team with confidence. Check out my shop to download HR Templates & Contracts designed to make life easier.