What Does Grievance Mean?

When an employee is unhappy with their work environment, they have the right to file a grievance with the management team. A grievance is a claim by employees that they are harshly affected by the misinterpretation of a written company policy or collective bargained agreement. To handle grievances, employers usually implement a grievance procedure. The procedure may also be part of the collective bargaining agreement.

A grievance procedure is a method of internal dispute resolution to settle the employees’ complaints. Most collective bargaining agreements follow certain procedures for filing and resolving grievances. The processes generally involve the employee, union representatives, and employer’s management committee members in a union environment. 

Grievance procedures vary from company to company, especially under different collective bargaining agreements and written workplace rules or policies. But, the majority of them have specific general processes in common.

Here are the steps of a typical grievance procedure:

Informal meeting with supervisor

Generally, grievances are brought to the employee’s immediate supervisor. Before filing a grievance, it is highly encouraged that employees meet with their managers first. Often, having an informal conversation with a supervisor is all that is needed to resolve a dispute, complaint, or workplace issue. 

For instance, if a worker believes that he deserves a promotion but hasn’t received one in many years, a manager may explain why he hasn’t been promoted and what steps he could take to be promoted in the future. It is essential that supervisors acknowledge the grievance and actively listen to employee concerns. 

Formal grievance in writing

The company may create a grievance form for employees to fill out. They can also have employees send an email with details of the grievance. It is vital to encourage employees to include as many details as possible in their email or the form. Depending on what the company grievance policy stipulates, they can also advise the employees to verbally make a complaint and have the supervisors write down the employee’s statement. 


The company may decide to involve the human resources department at this stage. This is usually when union representatives step in on behalf of the employee for unionized workplaces.

Remember to evaluate the details of the grievance to identify the next steps. Maybe it is a simple concern that can be resolved immediately. For example, if an employee receives an inaccurate paycheck, the grievance could be resolved within a few minutes. However, if the concern is more complicated and involves other team members, the next step is typically conducting a formal investigation.

Conduct of formal investigation 

During an investigation, the company needs to interview the employee who filed the grievance and other staff members who were involved, if applicable. Collect evidence to help you resolve, such as email chains, witness testimony, receipts, etc. Appointing an independent investigator to conduct the investigation is also an excellent option to keep the process fair and unbiased.


Finally, the investigator, HR, supervisor, and others involved in the investigation write a formal conclusion based on their findings. Inform the employee about the decision and what action shall be taken. 

What will happen if the grievance remains unresolved? 

If the grievance remains unresolved through the highest levels of management within the company, many procedures can be implemented. An outside arbitrator may be appointed to help resolve the issue. Likewise, senior leaders from both sides can also assist in the arbitration process.

An effective grievance procedure provides employees with a fair mechanism to resolve issues within the workplace. The grievance procedure may also help employers assess or amend problems before they become severe or result in a lawsuit.