Grievance Procedure Time Limits - What You Need To Know

Employers should deal with grievances within a “reasonable” timeframe.


James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.


04 August 2022


17 July 2024
5 min read
Grievance Procedure Time Limits - What You Need To Know

Need to know about grievance procedure time limits?

In short, there are no formal time limits that prevent employees from raising historical grievances, nor are there any formal rules about how quickly employers should deal with grievances.

Employers should however deal with grievances within a “reasonable” timeframe, and the Acas Code of Practice suggests that when a grievance is raised, a meeting should ideally be convened within 5 working days to discuss the issues raised.

It's always best to try and find an informal solution to issues at work, but when this is not possible, issues should be dealt with as quickly as possible. If you're unsure about how to deal with grievances, it is best to seek legal advice.

If an employer does not deal with grievances or takes too long to deal with them, this can lead to employees feeling disgruntled and unvalued. This can, in turn, hurt productivity and morale and may end up with more formal employment tribunal proceedings being issued against you.


HR Support For Employers Managing Grievances

Grievance proceedings at work can be stressful for both the employee at the centre of the investigation, the person raising the complaint and the management team responsible for ensuring the process is carried out fully, fairly and in line with company procedure and recommended timelines.

Neathouse Partners can help support you with this by providing solution-driven outsourced HR support for employers.

If you need help with employee policies, staff handbooks, or managing difficult conversations, including grievances, then our experienced HR professionals and employment lawyers can help you expertly navigate HR matters like these with the sensitivity and proactiveness they deserve, regardless of how complex the issue may seem.


What Is A Grievance At Work?

A grievance at work is an employee's formal complaint about something that has happened at work. This can relate to other colleagues, or the company's attitude, actions, or decisions. The grievance procedure is the process that an employee can follow to lodge a formal complaint, and this should be set out in your employee handbook.

The procedure varies from organisation to organisation but typically involves raising the issue with a supervisor or manager, and then progressing to higher levels of management if the issue cannot be resolved informally. This escalation should follow the company's grievance policy procedure. Grievances can cover a wide range of issues, including discrimination, harassment, bullying, and health and safety concerns.

When an employee raises a grievance, they are typically seeking resolution of the problem, either through informal means such as a discussion with their supervisor or through formal channels such as an investigation by HR. If an employee feels that their grievance has not been adequately addressed, they may choose to take you to an employment tribunal.

Typically, an employee can refer a case to an employment tribunal within 3 months of the date of the act or omission complained of. This is subject to them first starting “Early Conciliation” via ACAS, which is essentially a form of off-record mediation via a third party. The time limit is put on hold while this mediation takes place.


Examples Of Grievances At Work

The following list is an example of the kind of issues that can arise at work and lead to an official grievance being issued;

  1. things you ask employees to do as part of their job
  2. the terms and conditions of the employment contracts issued - for example, pay/hours
  3. the way employees are being treated at work - for example, if they're not given a promotion when they think they should be
  4. bullying
  5. discrimination at work - for example, employees may be suffering from harassment due to race, age, disability, sexual orientation, or another protected characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010.


What If An Employer Fails To Deal With A Grievance Within A Reasonable Timeframe?

If an employer takes too long to deal with a grievance, this can harm morale and productivity.

Staff may feel that there is no point in speaking up about problems at work if their perception is that nothing will be done. This might lead to them resigning, thereby causing the employer to incur recruitment costs when a timely grievance discussion might have resolved the complaint.

Further, not dealing with a grievance could give rise to a tribunal claim, for example, an employee who is ignored might have good grounds to claim constructive dismissal if their employer ignores grievances.

Not dealing with grievances promptly can also undermine the fairness of the whole procedure. If you leave it too long to investigate, key evidence might have been destroyed or altered, which in turn could affect the chances of winning at an employment tribunal.


What If Historical Complaints Are Raised?

Although staff will typically raise issues as soon as they arise, there are often situations where staff might delay in raising a point of concern.

There are many reasons for this and it might be that they felt afraid to come forward at the time, or that something else has subsequently happened which has made them want to speak up. When dealing with historical allegations, it can often be hard to investigate fully, especially if key witnesses have since left, but you need to do as much as is reasonable to look into the issues.

Although the general rule is that claims in the employment tribunal need to be raised within 3 months if the conduct complained of is part of a series of events, the tribunal can “link” the complaints, so it is important to take all allegations seriously and not dismiss them, just because they happened some time ago.


How To Ensure Employees Follow The Right Procedures?

The grievance procedure usually involves an employee submitting a written complaint to you, and then it's up to you to investigate the matter and facilitate meetings between relevant parties.

  • Following your investigation, you need to reach a decision and notify those concerned of the decision and any resulting action that will be taken. By ensuring that staff are aware of how to raise a grievance, you can make sure that staff feel able to speak up and raise issues of concern before situations irretrievably deteriorate.
  • Although we would not recommend implementing formal time limits within which complaints must be raised, having a clear procedure that staff are aware of would help to minimise the risk of historical issues being raised long after they have occurred.
  • Another way to ensure that the grievance procedure is followed correctly is to provide training for employees on how to use it and where to find the information they need. This will ensure that employees are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the procedure, and it will also help to prevent misunderstandings.

By taking these steps, employers can help to ensure that their grievance procedures are used effectively and efficiently by those who need them.


Grievances: Step-By-Step

You should have a plan for how you will manage and conduct grievances before they occur.

Key steps to follow should ensure that you conduct a detailed investigation to reach an informed outcome at the end of the grievance procedure.

This may involve:

  1. Creating and updating a grievance policy that outlines your company's procedure and is readily accessible to all employees
  2. Review of the letter of a grievance submitted;
  3. Checking relevant policies and procedures;
  4. Identifying potential sources of evidence;
  5. Identifying possible people relevant to the investigation;
  6. Deciding how and when to collect the evidence; and
  7. Deciding when and where the grievance hearing should take place.

Your Responsibilities

You have a responsibility to create a workplace that is free from discrimination, harassment, and other forms of unlawful treatment. This includes ensuring that employees are treated fairly and equally in all aspects of their employment, such as recruitment, promotion, and termination.

If an employee believes that they have been the victim of unlawful treatment, they have the right to file a grievance with you as their employer.

  1. You are obliged to investigate grievances promptly and impartially and take appropriate corrective action if there is evidence of wrongdoing.
  2. You must take care to protect the confidentiality of both the complainant and the accused, and ensure that the grievance process does not adversely affect the employment relationship.
  3. You need to ensure that employees feel comfortable raising their concerns. If they feel like they're not being listened to, or like their grievance isn't being taken seriously, they're less likely to use the grievance procedure in future.
  4. It's also important to be flexible and vary the process where necessary. This might be relevant if key witnesses are on holiday or off sick.

By meeting your obligations concerning employee grievances, you can create a positive and productive workplace where employees feel valued and respected.


When it comes to grievance procedure time limits, whilst there are no formal limits to raising grievances at work, you are advised to deal with them promptly and within a reasonable time frame.

If an employee wants to lodge a grievance against you at an employment tribunal, they generally have three months minus one day from the date that the event they are complaining about last happened.

We hope you now understand the steps you can take as an employer to ensure that your employees follow the right procedures when filing a grievance and your responsibilities as an employer regarding grievance procedures.

If you ever need support on how to manage difficult conversations about grievances, putting together a full and fair grievance procedure, or advice on specific employee circumstances, then you can talk to Neathouse. Our expert team will ensure that you have the tools, knowledge, and procedures that you need to manage HR situations effectively.

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