How to legally manage employee grievances in a UK small business?

Navigating the world of employee grievances within a small business can be daunting. However, with the right tools, knowledge, and patience, you can manage these situations effectively while adhering to the law. In this article, we will guide you through the steps to handle an employee grievance in your UK small business legally. We will discuss the formal grievance procedure, factors to consider during the process, and how to ensure your actions align with UK employment law.

Understanding Employee Grievances

Before we delve into the formal grievance procedure, it's essential to comprehend what constitutes an employee grievance. A grievance refers to any complaint, concern or problem raised by an employee about their work, working conditions or relationships with colleagues. These grievances can stem from various sources, such as perceived unfair treatment, health and safety concerns, or issues related to pay or contracts.

As an employer, it's crucial to establish a grievance policy that clearly outlines how employees should raise grievances and how your business will handle such issues. Having a well-defined procedure ensures that staff members feel heard and that their concerns are being taken seriously. It also helps to minimise the risk of legal complications down the line.

Establishing a Formal Grievance Procedure

A formal grievance procedure is a process through which employers handle complaints raised by their staff members. It's a critical part of any business's employee relations strategy, providing a clear course of action for dealing with issues that might arise in the workplace.

The procedure should start with the employee submitting their grievance in writing to their immediate superior or the HR department, depending on the size of your business. This written complaint forms the basis of the procedure, allowing you to understand the nature of the issue and plan the next steps.

Next, you will need to arrange a formal meeting with the employee to discuss their grievance. This meeting gives the employee a chance to elaborate on their complaint, and it offers you the opportunity to ask questions and clarify any ambiguities.

Finally, you should investigate the grievance thoroughly. This step might involve speaking to other staff members, reviewing documents, or consulting relevant regulations. Based on your investigation, you will make a decision and communicate it to the employee.

Legal Considerations

As you manage employee grievances, it's essential to keep the legal implications in mind. The UK employment law provides clear guidelines on how employers should handle these issues.

Firstly, your grievance procedure should be transparent and fair. The law stipulates that employers must treat every grievance seriously, investigate appropriately, and make decisions based on the evidence available.

Secondly, you should adhere to your company's grievance policy. If you deviate from the established procedure, you may be legally liable, especially if the employee decides to appeal your decision.

Thirdly, it's important to remember that employees have the right to be accompanied to a grievance meeting by a colleague or union representative. Denying this right can result in legal repercussions.

Finally, always respect the employee's confidentiality during the process. Breaching this trust can lead to claims of victimisation or discrimination.

Handling Grievance Appeals

There will be times when an employee disagrees with the outcome of the grievance procedure. In such instances, they have the right to appeal the decision.

The appeal process should be included in your company's grievance policy. Employees should know how to lodge an appeal, to whom, and within what time frame. You should also outline the process that will follow, which typically involves a review of the original decision by a senior manager or director.

During the appeal, it's essential to remain impartial and open-minded. Review all the evidence again and consider whether the original decision was fair and reasonable.


Managing employee grievances is an integral part of running a business. It requires a balanced approach that respects the rights of the employees, maintains the health of the workplace, and adheres to the relevant laws. By implementing a solid grievance procedure, treating every complaint with seriousness, and handling appeals appropriately, you can ensure that your small business in the UK remains a place where every employee feels valued and heard.

Adhering to the ACAS Code of Practice

When tackling grievances at work, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures is the gold standard that employers should follow. The ACAS code offers practical guidance for handling issues in the workplace.

Firstly, the ACAS code emphasizes the importance of raising grievances without delay. If an employee wishes to raise a grievance, they should do so as soon as the problem occurs. Delayed grievances can complicate the resolution process and even affect the workplace environment.

Next, the ACAS code advocates for a fair and consistent grievance procedure. This means treating all grievances equally, regardless of who the employee is or what the complaint involves. Moreover, consistency in handling grievances can help prevent potential discrimination or bias in the workplace.

The ACAS code also encourages prompt resolution of issues. Employers are encouraged to deal with grievances swiftly to maintain a healthy working environment. Prolonged grievance procedures can be detrimental to staff morale and productivity.

Finally, the ACAS code advises employers to allow employees to explain their grievance fully and make their case. This means being attentive during grievance meetings, providing the employee with ample opportunity to express their concerns, and responding to these concerns appropriately.

Seeking Legal Advice if Necessary

While it is possible to manage most employee grievances internally, there may be instances where seeking legal advice is beneficial. Complex grievances, such as allegations of discrimination or harassment, can have serious legal implications and it may be prudent to consult with a legal professional.

Legal advice can help employers understand their obligations under employment law. It can also provide guidance on how to handle complicated issues, ensuring that the rights of all parties are upheld.

In some cases, an unresolved grievance may escalate to an employment tribunal. In such situations, having access to qualified legal advice can be invaluable. A legal professional can assist in preparing for the tribunal, gathering evidence, and presenting your case.

It's worth noting that trade unions also offer support and advice to employers and employees alike. They can provide useful insights into how to handle a workplace grievance, including advice on following the ACAS code.


Successfully navigating the landscape of employee grievances in a small business is no small feat. It requires a commitment to fairness, consistency, and respect for employment law. Whether you're establishing your grievance policy, engaging in a grievance meeting, or handling an appeal, every step of the grievance process is critical.

By adhering to the ACAS code, seeking legal advice when necessary, and fostering an environment where employees feel comfortable raising their concerns, you enhance your business's reputation as a fair and respectful employer. Remember, addressing grievances effectively is not just about resolving disputes – it's about creating a positive workplace culture that values its employees.