Organizational Wellness

What are Grievance Procedures? An Effective Guide for HR Leaders [Example Policy]

Jan 11, 2024
Last Updated May 15, 2024

Upon opening her email in the morning, HR Director Jenny gets an unwelcome suppose. Karen, a sales representative, is alleging that her manager Mark has made multiple inappropriate comments about her appearance that made her uncomfortable. 

Does this situation sound at all familiar?

Unfortunately for too many HR leaders, the answer is yes. Human resource departments strive every day to build a strong and safe company culture, but not everything is in your control. 

When allegations like this arise, what you can control is how your organization addresses the situation. This is where grievance procedures come in handy — they give you and your employees an action plan to follow to explore and resolve conflict. 


What is a Grievance Procedure?

A grievance procedure provides employees with a formal process to raise concerns or problems they are experiencing in the workplace. The goal of your pre-established process is to address these issues fairly and efficiently. With a solid grievance process, an organization is well-positioned to build trust with its workforce.

Types of Employee Grievances

HR representatives may encounter a wide variety of issues, including: concerns about discrimination, harassment, health and safety, compensation, unreasonable demands by managers, and more. Having customized procedures that align with labor laws and organizational policies is key.

Employee grievances you may encounter as an HR leader include:

  • Unfair dismissal: This is when an employer terminates an employee without reasonable cause or due process. This could include deciding to let someone go based on their gender, race, religion, age, or other protected characteristics. In some cases, it could involve terminating someone for what the employer believes is misconduct but is actually a minor infraction.
  • Inadequate pay: Staff members feel that what they are earning does not take into consideration their years of service and experience at the company. It also applies if employers do not keep up with wage increases mandated by law for certain jobs.
  • Job security: Employees feel like their job status is precarious, and they are constantly uncertain about whether they will remain employed with the company long-term. This can be especially true if there have been layoffs recently in the company or rumors of further downsizing or restructuring.
  • Sexual harassment: An employee reports an unwelcome behavior or action of a sexual nature that occurs in the workplace and affects the safety, security, and psychological wellbeing of employees. It can take many forms, from verbal remarks or jokes to physical contact or gestures. It can also be directed at someone based on their gender, race, religion, age, disability, or any other protected class. 
  • Discrimination: An employee has experienced harassment or discrimination based on age, race, sex, sexual orientation, disability status, or other protected characteristics. This includes any unwanted comments that create an uncomfortable work environment where individuals feel singled out because of their identity rather than judged based on merit alone.
  • A hostile work environment: Employees who feel management does not respond adequately to reports of bullying, intimidation, or intimidating behavior from co-workers or leaders.

Key Components of a Grievance Procedure

A comprehensive grievance procedure outlines every step employees and managers should take to resolve issues. Key components include:

Informal Resolution Stage

Before initiating a formal complaint, encourage employees to attempt informal resolution by speaking directly to their managers or a representative from the HR department. This can often solve uncomplicated disputes quickly.

Formal Complaint Process

If informal resolution fails, the issue can be escalated to a filed grievance. It’s best to have a plan about how you’ll handle such issues before they arise, and have them outlined in your company’s grievance procedure. (See ‘Sample Grievance Procedure’ below for an example of what this can look like.) At this stage, you outline the proper channels, documentation standards, and deadlines for the employees looking to lodge the official complaint. Providing the forms and support avenues the employee needs to address the situation can help it be solved as quickly as possible.

Investigation and Decision-Making

Next, HR conducts an impartial investigation by gathering evidence related to the complaint from all involved parties. Decision makers and other stakeholders should follow the procedures and outcome guidelines as outlined in your employee handbook. 

Appeals Process

Just like appealing a court decision, this process enables employees dissatisfied with the decision on their complaint to escalate their grievance for additional review. 

Documentation and Recordkeeping

Detailed documentation on every complaint and investigation helps protect the organization. They also uphold fairness should the issue escalate. Consider building a standardized filing system for these records, as that will let you use them to their full potential.

Sample Grievance Procedure

It's a good idea to include your company’s grievance procedure in your employee handbook so it's always accessible. It might look something like this:

Our company aims to promptly address all employee grievances in a fair and objective manner. If employees have a work-related problem or complaint, they are encouraged to discuss it first with their immediate supervisor. Most issues can be resolved informally at this level.

If a resolution cannot be reached, employees may initiate a formal grievance by taking the following steps:

Step 1: Submit a Grievance Form

Employees must complete a Grievance Form available from the Human Resources department. On the form, describe the grievance, related policy violation, who was involved, details of attempts to resolve it informally, and desired resolution.

Step 2: Grievance Investigation

Within 5 business days after receiving the form, HR will conduct an investigation. This involves interviewing witnesses, reviewing relevant policies, procedures, handbooks and documentation, examining evidence, and more. Employees may present additional documents or details relevant to the grievance during this stage.

Step 3: Management Review

Within 10 business days after the investigation concludes, management will issue a formal resolution in writing to the employee and HR. This decision is final unless the employee appeals it.

Step 4: Appeals Process

If dissatisfied with the resolution, employees have 5 business days to submit a written appeal to the CEO explaining why they disagree with the decision and wish to appeal. The CEO will review the information presented and make a final decision within 10 days.

Employees will not face retaliation for filing a complaint. All documentation related to formal grievances will remain confidential. Please contact HR with any questions about this process.

Having clear guidelines empowers employees to resolve workplace issues and helps companies address problems faster before they amplify. It’s a good idea to review your grievance protocols regularly to ensure it’s still well-suited to fostering positive employee relations.

Grievance Procedure Best Practices for HR Leaders

Implementing comprehensive grievance procedures is only half the battle — you also need to manage the process effectively. This is easier when you keep effective practices in mind.

Clear Communication of Procedures

Ensuring all employees understand the ins and outs of your grievance protocols eases the process. Providing training, sharing documentation in the company handbook, and keeping procedures transparent helps you keep everyone in the look. When expectations around grievances are clear for both staff and management, compliance and fairness can improve.

Timely Acknowledgment and Resolution

Addressing all grievances promptly, whether informally or through formal procedures, shows your department cares about your employee experience. Brief delays can aggravate complaints, while timely action resolves issues faster, often before they amplify. Formally acknowledge receipt of grievances so employees feel heard.

Impartial Investigations

Make sure everyone involved contributes to evidence-based investigations by gathering testimonies and information related to the policy or situation — not specific people. The focus of an investigation on upholding your organization's standards, not personalities or power structures. Remaining  neutral and objective helps your department avoid biased outcomes. 

Continuous Improvement

Regularly reviewing grievance cases helps identify procedural inconsistencies, inefficiencies causing delays, or policy gaps needing revision. You can implement additional staff training and refine procedures to address such issues. This advances fairness and process effectiveness.

Analyze Grievance Trends

Tracking grievance data empowers you to pinpoint problem areas by department, manager, employment practices, and other trends. Identifying the root of issues generating the most complaints, whether it’s lack of communication, poor training, or disparate treatment. You are then able to develop organizational action plans accordingly.

As you can see, there’s no need rather than reacting issue-by-issue. Mastering these grievance management strategies, you have the power to turn grievances into positive culture change.

Build a Positive Culture Every Day

There’s no need to wait for conflict to support positive culture change. You can commit to being a great place to work with an employee wellbeing program. 

Supporting an employee’s wellness goals — from activity to sleep to nutrition — helps cement your organization as a caring employer. This can help build goodwill within your workforce that helps you navigate conflict when it does appear.

More than 15,000 companies already trust Wellhub with their workforce wellness. Speak with a Wellbeing Specialist today to start your company’s wellness journey!

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!


Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


Our weekly newsletter is your source of education and inspiration to help you create a corporate wellness program that actually matters.

By subscribing you agree Wellhub may use the information to contact you regarding relevant products and services. Questions? See our Privacy Policy.