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Are You Grieving Over Workplace Grievances?

Published July 11, 2019 (last updated February 9, 2023) - Head of Operations
Woman Distressed Due To Grievance Management Meeting


Workplace grievances will arise at some point and it is how they are managed that makes all the difference. Regardless of the scenario, employers bear the responsibility of responding promptly, appropriately, and fairly. Failure to do so may hold significant consequences on productivity, culture – and in some instances – reputation.

What is a Workplace Grievance?

A workplace grievance is a complaint raised towards an employer by an employee due to a violation of legalities (e.g. policies, employment contract, national standards). Workplace grievances may take many forms. They will not always be made formal in writing and titled ‘workplace grievance’. They may often be made informally through discussion.

An employee may lodge a complaint about a fellow employee or even a manager. This includes anything from harassment, bullying and discrimination, to issues concerning the management of employees – such as micro-management.

Grievances may be filed by an employee against another employee or an employee against their employer. Employers need to be alert about what occurs in their workplace, as grievances can take many forms and at times, the matters at hand are not too pronounced.

It is essential to be able to recognise a grievance and treat them with fairness and offered transparency.

What are Some Examples of Workplace Grievances?

Some examples of workplace grievances include issues relating to:

  • Bullying and harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Workplace health and safety
  • Work environment
  • Relationships in the workplace
  • Organisational changes
  • Terms and conditions of employment

With each type of complaint, it is very important to demonstrate that, as an employer, you have:

  • Taken the appropriate steps to address the problematic conditions; and
  • Protected the employee where possible,
  • Been objective in your approach

Do I Need a Grievance Policy?

As an employer (particularly a small business owner), you are likely dealing with internal issues with staff on a regular basis. Having a grievances policy in place can help you deal effectively with these issues. Hence,  it is highly advisable that employers maintain a current workplace grievance policy. This means a policy that:

  • Outlines what constitutes a workplace grievance for the purposes of communicating a clear definition to employees
  • Identifies a step-by-step procedure for seeking a resolution to the workplace grievance
  • Sets out a process after arriving at a resolution

By accomplishing the above, employers are ensuring a fair and formal process for employees to raise concerns relating to their work, working conditions, and relationships with colleagues.

Employer’s Responsibility

Workplace grievances require caution and good faith – right from the investigation through to the resolution process. Employers have a responsibility to their employees which involves responding in a:

  • timely
  • appropriate
  • and fair manner

Failure to do so may create larger problems in the workplace on multiple fronts – from low staff morale to legal action. It is crucial that employers know their rights and responsibilities, as well as best practice with procedural response.

Employers should be aware that sometimes a grievance will be raised in an informal manner and the employee may not want a formal investigation, however, depending on the type of grievance and seriousness, the employer may need to follow a formal grievance procedure. For instance, in the case of sexual harassment or physical abuse. Also in some instances, it is appropriate to get the police involved.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a Formal Grievance Procedure?

    A formal grievance procedure involves a thorough investigation to determine whether it can be substantiated. Investigations need to be prompt and thorough as any delay may hinder the investigation or even suggest the complaint is not being taken seriously.

    Some appropriate steps to take in a formal investigation process are identified below.

    1. Confirm that the employee wants to take the formal approach. If yes, it is your obligation to investigate.
    2. Interview the employee

    At the commencement of the formal process, an employer should interview the employee who has expressed concern and make every effort to obtain as much detail as possible. During the interview, the process going forward should be confirmed, and the employee informed that the grievance will be formally investigated.

    1. Interview the alleged offender

    All employers must ensure this process is conducted in a procedurally fair manner. It should involve sharing the allegation with the proposed offender. This person must be given the opportunity to respond – this could either be denying the allegations or explaining other circumstances. Even if the alleged accepts the allegations the investigation must be continued to get all the corroborating evidence.

    1. Obtain additional evidence

    The employer should try to obtain any other relevant facts concerning the complaint. This may involve interviewing witnesses and examining evidence such as e-mail chains and memos or CCTV.

    1. Maintain confidentiality of the process

    It is crucial that throughout the process, all parties are instructed to treat the process as confidential and advised not to discuss it with other colleagues.

    1. Both parties should be notified that the grievance procedure has been followed and provided with an outcome letter. For instance, the letter to the alleged if the allegations have been substantiated through the evidence would stipulate this.
    2. Once the investigation has been finalised then the employer can action next steps such as disciplinary if relevant

    [Note: This should be viewed as general advice, procedures will vary case to case and in certain scenarios – some steps may be more appropriate than others.

  • What Are the Main Causes of Grievances?


    • Recognition
    • Neglect
    • Bias
    • Favouritism
    • Nepotism


    Work environment

    • Poor conditions
    • Poor standards
    • Poor quality equipment, materials
    • Unreasonable workloads, objectives


    Work Group

    • Factions/cliques
    • Isolation
    • Victimisation
    • Ridicule, humiliation



    • Wages (fixation, revision)
    • Overtime
    • Bonus
    • Allowances
    • Incentives
    • Welfare
  • What Is the Difference Between A Complaint And A Grievance?

    A complaint can be more informal – it refers to any accusation, allegation, or charge (oral or written). A workplace grievance refers to a formal complaint raised by an employee to an employer.

    With grievances, there is usually a breach of legalities, such as the ones stated within the terms and conditions of an employment contract – as well as the legalities involved with correct compensation, discrimination, bullying and harassment, and more.

    No matter the type, the process is the same and should be investigated.

  • What Do You Do When A Grievance Is Filed Against You?

    1. Notification

      You will be informed of the grievance raised and should either receive the details through a copy of the grievance letter or an alternate means. In cases where there are multiple components to a grievance, you may only be provided with the details which specifically notes your alleged conduct. If neither is provided, you may request a copy.

    2. Evidence collection

      Collect all the evidence you have relevant to the situation. This means memos, e-mail chains, text messages, appraisal forms, etc. Building a chronological timeline of the events may be helpful in proving your case.

    3. Preparing a defence

      Prepare a defence against the allegations and submit it to the relevant parties prior to the initial investigation meeting.

    4. Informal resolution

      Attempt to seek a resolution via informal means such as mediation. This should be the first course of action to avoid an unnecessarily prolonged process.

    5. Formal investigation

      If the informal resolution fails, formal means will be actioned. You will attend an investigation meeting and will not have the legal right to be accompanied by counsel with a few exceptions such as provisions contained within an enterprise agreement. Accompaniment by any other individual for moral support, however, is permitted (including lawyers who attend in a non-professional capacity).

    [Note: This should be viewed as general advice, procedures will vary case to case and in certain scenarios – some steps may be more appropriate than others.]

  • How Do You Respond to an Employee Grievance?

    You will be given the opportunity to respond to the grievance filed against you. This is where a solid chronology will come in handy, as to clear the air and discern some tangible meaning behind perceived actions. State your side of the story, submit your defence, and establish a case. An outcome will be decided in time. You will be notified when a decision regarding the grievance is made.

  • What Is an Informal Grievance?

    This is when an employee wants the business, their manager or other, to be aware of the issue, but they do not want to take the time or stress related to a formal investigation procedure. If this is the case, the business is not obligated to investigate or act on the complaint (unless it is serious enough in nature to warrant investigation).

    Advise the employee of this so that they know the businesses hands are tied unless the employee wants to take formal action. Provide the employee with options to try to resolve this matter themselves with the alleged eg to hash it out over coffee.

    Alternatively, the employee should be encouraged to raise such issues with a senior colleague of their choice (whether or not that person has a direct supervisory responsibility for them) as a confidential helper.

    If they feel unable to do confront the alleged verbally then they could prepare a hand written request to the individual to cease their conduct, and the confidential helper can assist them in this.

    It is recommended to keep a note of all informal complaints in case you can see a trend in the complaints. For instance, 5 different employees over 6 months submit an informal grievance about one supervisor. This may be something that the business might have to investigate on their own initiative as this may be a sign of bullying and harassment.  

About Employsure.

Employsure is Australia’s largest workplace relations specialists.

We take the complexity out of workplace laws to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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