How to write a grievance policy for your small business + free template
A grievance policy at work is a legal requirement, but if you’ve never written one before then how do you know where to start?
As one of Charlie’s senior HR Advisors, it’s my job to help small business owners create HR policies and procedures that encourage a high-performance culture, drive business growth, and support their employees.
And I’ve written this guide to help you write a grievance policy for your own small business.
We’ll look at what a grievance policy is, and how it supports the grievance procedure, and then link to a free grievance policy template that you can download, customise and use today.
By the end of this guide, you’ll have everything you need to confidently put your own grievance policy in place.
What is a grievance policy?
A grievance policy is a document that sets out the process for responding to a grievance raised by someone in your team.
To resolve the problem internally (i.e. not escalating it to an employment tribunal), a grievance policy at work gives employees steps to follow if they feel something cannot be rectified informally.
Grievance policies explain how to raise a formal grievance and set out the expected process and timeframe for the grievance procedure.
What is a grievance procedure?
A grievance procedure is the formal process that your grievance policy sets out in writing.
If someone feels that a problem at work cannot be settled informally (or doesn’t want it to be), they can raise a grievance. In raising a grievance, they set the grievance procedure in motion.
The grievance procedure has a structure that both the employer and the employee must follow — and is typically used when attempts at informal resolution have failed, or for problems that are serious in nature.
Why do you need a grievance policy?
It’s a legal requirement for employers to have their grievance procedures in writing so they can be easily accessed by their teams.
Your grievance policy could be shared in an employee handbook or in your employment contracts, and it must include details of who to contact about a grievance, and how to contact them.
A grievance policy gives you the framework for managing a grievance. So if anyone in your team ever raises one, you’ve got a process that’s all mapped out and ready to follow. This will make a difficult situation easier to deal with.
What are the barriers for small businesses needing to write a grievance policy?
No business is the same, but there are common themes affecting smaller companies. And they can stop you from writing your own grievance policy:
- Limited resources - small HR teams usually have fewer resources, which makes it challenging to dedicate sufficient time to grievances, even though you know they need to be dealt with promptly and thoroughly.
- Informality vs. formality is a balancing act - striking the balance between maintaining a relatively informal small business culture and establishing formal procedures for grievance resolution can be hard. How do you create a policy that is both accessible and effective? Think as well about creating policies for diversity and inclusion as well as equal opportunities to make sure you cover all aspects of it.
- Lack of expertise - in small business, most people wear multiple hats, but you may be lacking expertise in conflict resolution. This hinders your ability to navigate complex grievances such as bullying and harassment.
- Legal compliance - staying on top of ever-changing employment laws and regulations is a big headache! With fewer resources for legal support, you’ve got to rely on your own knowledge to ensure your grievance policy aligns with the current legal standards.
What are the 5 steps of a grievance procedure?
Your grievance procedure should be easily accessible and set out in writing, i.e. as a grievance policy. It should also follow the Acas code for disciplinary and grievance procedures.
Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) is an independent public body that works with employers and employees to improve workplace relationships. They’ve created a step-by-step guide for employers on the formal grievance procedure. Here are steps in bite-size to save you a bit of time:
1: Understanding the options
If a grievance case ever goes as far as an employment tribunal, as the employer everything you’ve done in the lead-up will be taken into account. For this reason, you should follow a full and fair procedure in line with the Acas Code for any grievance. Even if a problem is only raised informally, you must respond to it.
2: Raising a grievance
Your grievance policy should tell your employees how to raise a formal grievance and who to send it to. It should also clearly set out the grievance procedure in full, so they know what to expect.
3: Responding to a grievance
Every organisation needs its own formal grievance procedure. And it should follow the Acas code of practice for disciplinary and grievance procedures, as a minimum.
4: The grievance meeting
If one of your employees raises a formal grievance, you need to hold a meeting with them 'without unreasonable delay' (ideally within 5 working days). Your employee should be given time to prepare for this meeting, and you should consider the evidence from all sides. If a similar grievance has happened before, you should follow the same procedure to keep things fair.
5: Deciding the outcome
Deciding the outcome of a grievance should be based on:
- the findings from the grievance meeting and any other related investigations
- what is fair and reasonable
- what you’ve done in any previous, similar cases
- whether you'll then have to
As the employer, you need to inform your employee, in writing, of the outcome as soon as possible.
6: After the grievance
No matter the outcome, you should keep a written record of all raised grievances. This is to help with any similar, future cases and so you have something to refer to if ever questioned. All records must be confidential and only kept for as long as necessary, so they’re in line with GDPR and your data protection policy.
Top tip: use the above steps as a framework for writing a grievance policy for your own business.
What should be included in a grievance policy?
Your grievance policy at work must include details of:
- Who to contact about a grievance, and how to contact them.
It should also:
- Inform employees that grievance meetings, also known as a grievance hearing, will take place if the problem cannot be resolved informally
- Set out the expected timeframe for the grievance procedure
- Provide an alternative contact if the primary point of contact is unavailable or involved in the grievance
- Make it clear that employees can have another colleague or union representative present with them at the meetings
- Say what happens if someone raises a grievance during disciplinary action
- Outline the process for appealing the grievance outcome.
It’s not a requirement that you include information about your grievance policy in your employment contracts. But it’s important to note that if you do and don’t follow procedure, an employee can claim breach of contract.
Grievance policy template
Managing a grievance at your own small business is likely to be stressful. In smaller teams, you’ll probably have to navigate personal as well as professional relationships, so the situation may be especially delicate.
As a fellow small business, we understand these nuances at Charlie. What works for a bigger company may not always be applicable or suitable in a small business setting.
For that reason, I'm sharing our own grievance policy as a template, which you can use as is, or edit and adapt to better suit your own team.
Our grievance policy template is designed for UK small businesses and is free to download:
Having a grievance policy will make any future grievances much easier to handle, and this template will make it much easier for you to put one in place.
How Charlie will help with your grievance policy
So you’ve got your grievance policy template, but what if you’re still feeling a little unsure about everything?Well, that’s where we come in.
At Charlie, we provide small businesses with expert and affordable HR support. We guide, advise, and support hundreds of small companies every day, and we can help you too.
Our HR Advice is a bespoke service designed to give small business owners and their HR teams anytime support. That means we’re on hand to help you whenever you need — whether that’s for a single question or for writing an entire policy.
With Charlie’s HR Advice, you get:
- A dedicated expert to write a grievance policy that’s not only compliant with UK law, but also fully aligned with your company culture and your team’s unique needs
- Complete policy and compliance audits so that you feel confident in all of your business processes and documentation.
- Your HR advisor is always on hand to help you resolve difficult employee situations in a compassionate, fair and compliant way. So you’re never alone, and always supported.
Book a free call to chat with an HR Advisor (it could be me!) and find out more about Charlie’s HR Advice service:
In addition to our HR Advice, we support even more small businesses with our HR software.
Our HR software is designed by a small business for small businesses, so we know it will give you everything you need:
With Charlie, you can store all your HR policies in our software so that everyone can access them at any time.
This means there is full visibility of your grievance procedure, and your team feels encouraged to raise complaints or address problems in a timely, efficient and supported way.
Dealing with any grievance is tough, but policy-making and paperwork don’t have to be. Try Charlie for free for 7 days and see for yourself how simple it can be: