It is not uncommon for staff to raise a grievance about their managers, in some cases without just cause, although the employer will still be duty bound to fully investigate any formal complaint. It is therefore important for managers to know their own employment rights in these circumstances, not only to help minimise the potential stress and worry involved, but to ensure that they are treated fairly at all times in accordance with the relevant rules.
IN this guide, we look at the rights of managers who are facing a grievance against them, and how employers should manage what is often a difficult workplace scenario.
What are your rights if someone brings a grievance against you as a manager?
When an employee raises a formal grievance at work, employers must follow a full and fair process in line with the ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. The provisions within this Code of Practice represent the minimum steps and practical guidance that an employer should comply with when handling workplace complaints, although many employers will have in place their own written procedures.
The practical guidance provided under the ACAS Code is not weighted in favour of the complainant. It is about fairness for everyone involved – including the person making the complaint and those facing the allegations.
When it comes to your rights as the subject of any formal complaint made against you as a manager, and in accordance with the basic principles of fairness as set out under the Code of Practice, you should expect your employer to:
- Promptly carry out any necessary investigations to establish the facts of the complaint.
- Deal with any complaint against you without unreasonable delay when it comes to meetings, decisions or confirmation of those decisions.
- Clearly inform you of the basis of the complaint made against you.
- Provide you with an adequate opportunity to respond to the complaint before any disciplinary decisions are made.
- Allow you to be accompanied at any formal disciplinary hearing on reasonable request.
- Act consistently with previous decisions around any similar complaints.
- Allow you to appeal against any formal disciplinary decision made against you.
How should the grievance against you be managed by the organisation?
Any workplace grievance, even when made against you personally as a manager, must be approached by your employer in the same way as any other grievance at work. This means that it must be fully investigated, and handled fairly and lawfully, without your employer taking sides. This is the case, even if it appears to you that the complaint is wholly unfounded.
In some instances, an individual may feel genuinely aggrieved by a workplace issue, or how they have been treated, regardless of whether or not you have done anything wrong. In other cases, you may even suspect that a person is deliberately trying to make life difficult for you and that their complaint is malicious. Still, the employer is required by law to follow the ACAS Code, even where it seems clear to you that a complaint is unjust, without merit or has been made in bad faith.
This will usually mean the employer arranging a formal meeting for the complainant to attend, providing them with a full opportunity to explain their complaint against you and to provide any evidence in support. Once an individual raises a formal grievance, the employer should usually arrange to hold a meeting within 5 working days, although this may be postponed by up to another 5 working days to allow the complainant to be accompanied at the meeting.
Having listened to the grievance and considered any evidence put forward by the complainant, your employer must make a decision as to what action, if any, is appropriate. Where necessary, the grievance meeting should be adjourned for further investigations to be undertaken to establish the facts involved, including interviewing you and any witnesses to the incidents described. Although there is no statutory right for you to be accompanied at any investigatory meeting, such a right may be allowed under your employer’s own procedure.
The employer must obtain as much information as possible, only making a decision once they are satisfied that they have all the facts and everyone has had a chance to have their say. That decision must then be communicated to the complainant in writing without unreasonable delay, together with any action that will be taken to resolve their grievance.
If a decision is made that there is a disciplinary case to answer by you, you must be notified of this in writing. Where there is no case to answer, for example, if the complaint against you is held to be unfounded or without merit, the complainant should be informed of their right to appeal this decision. This could be because they are not happy with the outcome, or because they feel that the grievance procedure was either wrong or unfair in some way.
Can you request to see the minutes of any grievance against you?
Under data protection law in the UK, you have the right to request access to information about you that is held on file. This is known as a subject access request. This could include the minutes of any grievance meeting, as well as any notes and witness statements produced as part of a grievance investigation. However, your employer can refuse to disclose any document that would also reveal information about a third party, unless that third party has consented to the disclosure or it is deemed reasonable to comply with the request without their consent.
Your employer should not automatically refuse to disclose a document if a third party does not consent to it being released. Ultimately, the employer should make a reasoned decision about whether or not it would be reasonable in all the circumstances to disclose any minutes of meeting or other grievance-related document. This will involve balancing the third party’s right to privacy against your right to know what information is held about you and its source.
Your employer should also consider what steps can be taken to anonymise a document before disclosing it. This might involve blanking out any third party name or other information from which that person could be identified, editing the document to conceal the third party’s identity or preparing a summary of the information contained within that document.
Additionally, if it is decided that there is a disciplinary case to answer by you following a grievance investigation, you should be provided with any evidence to be relied upon in advance of any disciplinary hearing to enable you to respond to the allegations made. This is because you have the right to know the case against you and to be able to challenge it, so evidence should only be withheld or anonymised where there is a strong reason for doing so.
The ACAS Code of Practice states that it would normally be appropriate to provide copies of any written evidence at the same time of notifying you of the disciplinary hearing. The non-statutory guide that accompanies the Code of Practice also states that the employer should provide copies of any meeting records, including copies of any formal minutes, while citing protecting a witness as an example of when withholding information may be appropriate.
What if the grievance against you is upheld?
If it is decided that there is a disciplinary case to answer following an investigation into a formal grievance made against you, your employer must notify you of this in writing. As with any grievance, they must also follow a full and fair disciplinary procedure.
Even though the employer will have already embarked on an investigation into the matter, you must be given further opportunity to state your case and respond to the allegations made at a disciplinary hearing. You will also have the statutory right, on reasonable request, to be accompanied at that hearing by either a colleague, a trade union representative or an official employed by a trade union. This right arises where the disciplinary meeting could result in a formal warning being issued or the taking of some other disciplinary action.
In cases where a grievance against you as a manager is upheld, your employer will need to decide whether or not disciplinary action should be taken. This will very much depend on the nature and seriousness of the complaint, and how any other similar complaints have been handled. Any disciplinary sanction imposed must be both proportionate and consistent with any previous action taken. In some cases, a verbal or written warning may be deemed sufficient, although in serious cases the employer may consider a decision to dismiss.
You should be notified of the outcome of any disciplinary hearing in writing and without unreasonable delay. You should also be notified of your right to appeal.
Can you appeal a grievance against you?
If a grievance against you ultimately results in a decision to take disciplinary action, you will have the right to appeal that decision. This could be because you disagree with the grievance decision itself, or because you feel that the disciplinary action to be taken is disproportionate. It could also be because you feel that the disciplinary procedure followed was in some way unfair. Either way, you should let your employer know the grounds for your appeal in writing.
An appeal should be heard without unreasonable delay at an agreed time and place. Where possible, the appeal should be dealt with by someone who has not previously been involved in the case. You will again have a statutory right to be accompanied at any appeal hearing. You should also be given written notification of the outcome of the appeal as soon as possible.
What if your appeal is not upheld?
If you appeal a decision made against you, and that appeal is not upheld, it is highly unlikely that you will have any further recourse by way of internal procedures, unless your contract of employment, or any written disciplinary and grievance procedure, allows for a further appeal.
However, if you feel that you have been treated unfairly at work, you may be able to file a claim with the Employment Tribunal. For example, if you have been dismissed following a grievance made against you as a manager, and you feel that the decision to dismiss was unfair, or that your employer failed to follow a fair procedure, you may be able to claim compensation for unfair dismissal. By seeking expert advice from an employment law specialist, you can explore the merits of any potential claim against your employer and make an informed decision as to how to proceed. However, time is of the essence here, where there is usually a 3 month time limit on bringing a claim, so it is imperative that you seek advice without delay.
Grievance against you at work FAQs
What happens if a grievance is raised against you?
If someone raises a grievance against you, the employer must follow a fair procedure in dealing with the matter, investigating the issues thoroughly without unreasonable delay.
Can I be sacked for raising a grievance?
Employees are entitled to lodge a formal grievance at work and must not be treated unfairly or subjected to any detriment because of this. However, if the complaint is found to be malicious, this may be grounds for dismissal.
Can a manager raise a grievance against an employee?
If a manager raises a grievance against an employee, the employer would be duty bound to investigate the matter, although the manager could instead deal with any complaint they have about an employee themselves by way of disciplinary proceedings.
What do you do when a complaint is made against you at work?
If a complaint is made against you at work, and it is decided that there is a disciplinary case to answer by you, you should attend any disciplinary hearing to provide a response to the allegations made against you.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.