Under the Employment Act 2002 (Dispute Resolution) Regulations 2004, employers and employees are encouraged to resolve grievances before resorting to tribunal action. Employees can only pursue a claim if they have raised a grievance about the matter first.
A grievance is defined under the regulations as "a complaint by an employee about action which his employer has taken or is contemplating taking in relation to him". In order for the procedure to be triggered, a grievance must be set out in writing.
There are three steps to the standard grievance procedure: the employee sends a written statement of grievance to the employer; a meeting is held to discuss the grievance; then the employee is allowed to appeal and an appeal meeting is held.
There is also a modified procedure that applies when the grievance procedure has not been started, or has not been completed, before the employment terminates. This consists of two stages; the employee has to send a written statement of grievance and the employer must send a written response to the grievance. The parties must agree beforehand in writing that the modified procedure will apply, otherwise the standard procedure will apply.
In recent case law the term 'grievance' has been loosely interpreted.
What will constitute a genuine grievance for the purpose of triggering the procedures is not as straightforward as employers may have thought.
First, if an employee raises a complaint in writing, even if there is no reference to it being a grievance, the employer should seek confirmation that it is a grievance.
Second, resignation letters raising complaints about employment should be responded to in writing, and the employer should ask the employee if he or she intends the complaints to be treated as a grievance.
Finally, it is not necessary for an employee to follow their contractual grievance procedure. As long as they raise a grievance in accordance with the regulations, an employer will have to follow the statutory procedures.