Raising a complaint under any circumstance is a daunting task. Where an employee needs to make a complaint in the workplace, a number of thoughts immediately spring to mind.
All of these thoughts are perfectly understandable and natural. Here we explain the advantage and disadvantage of raising a complaint at work. We also talk you through the process in general terms. We address the process and the steps to follow, along with your options, the risks and potential outcomes. Fundamentally, if something at work is causing you distress or it is making you feel uncomfortable, you need to take action. Ignoring the situation is unhelpful and, in some cases, may be construed as ‘condoning’ the unacceptable behaviour.
First, start to keep a diary or a written log, at home, of the issues that are upsetting you. Show your diary to someone you trust (a family member or friend) and ask them if, in their view, the wording constitutes grounds for raising an informal complaint. If the answer is yes, ask to speak to a line manager, or someone more senior if your line manager is implicated in your complaint.
The information you contain in your diary may come in very useful at some point in the future. Being able to quote facts, times, dates and names of witnesses for example, will give you credibility over others who, conveniently, forget the detail. While collating data, don’t be tempted to remove company data or documents containing sensitive information referencing your colleagues (ie: salary details or health issues for example). Next, familiarise yourself with your in-house policies. Keep a copy of these important documents with your diary.
Here we talk about the role of the Representative through the dispute resolution process. In particular we focus on the right of the employee to nominate their own representative at the conciliation stage.
Conciliation in the Workplace
Meet with line management, with someone from Human Resources or with a Director and tell them how you feel. Give examples. Ask for a copy of the Company Grievance policy. Tell the person you speak to exactly what is happening, how you feel and how this is affecting you. Keep to the facts. Give examples. Try to summarise matters without raising issues which are irrelevant or which are based on assumption, gossip or speculation.
One thing which is often overlooked is to send an email of thanks afterwards to the person who listened to you. Send an email thanking them ‘‘in writing’ for listening. Not only is this extremely professional but the email document acts as a ‘file note’ in many ways. It demonstrates that you reported your concerns to management.
An email is dated and will be a permanent record of that discussion. Take a copy and keep it with your diary notes.
I want to thank you for meeting with me earlier today when we discussed my concerns regarding the behaviour of (name) and how it was affecting me and my work. You agreed to monitor the situation. You said you would talk to that person to let them know that I feel aggrieved (*delete if not the case). Thank you also for providing me with a copy of the Company Grievance policy (*delete if not the case)., and for advising me of my right to raise a formal complaint should I feel a need to in future. I felt much better after talking to you about my concerns.
If the situation is impacting on your health, inform your employer in writing. Write to the HR manager or a person you trust (see above) and tell them what is happening. Make an appointment to see your doctor if you believe you are suffering with Work Related Stress. If you are signed off work, submit your sick certificate to your employer and keep them informed of your progress. The above sets out how to raise concerns informally with your employer where something is wrong. Hopefully this will be enough. Hopefully the above will ensure that matters are ‘nipped in the bud’ and resolved as a matter of priority.
If matters do not improve, we strongly recommend you escalate matters and follow the company Grievance policy. If your employer does not have a policy (and they should have one), you can get guidance from this website or from the ACAS website or any employment law solicitor. There are risks in terms of raising a formal complaint but there are also risks of doing nothing. Here we explore your options and the alternatives;
If you do nothing a) you might be deemed to be condoning the behaviour and b) the bullying behaviour may continue until your health suffers longer-term and you have a complete breakdown. You may eventually lose confidence. You may find it difficult to focus on your work. You may even lose sleep and start to act out of character. At this point, the situation starts to impact on your life outside work. All of these symptoms suggest something is very wrong. Doing nothing is not an option.
Resigning is the easy option but it is not the solution. Before you resign, ask yourself whether you really want to walk away. This step achieves very little long term and, in fact, you may later regret resigning. The bully wins. You will have to find alternative work and start all over again. You may even struggle to get a Job Reference from your employer too. Importantly, you cannot raise a grievance after you have left an organisation. Some people believe you can but, in reality, you cannot. Your employment contract will have ended and the employer in question has no obligation to re-employ you or even tell you what the outcome is of any internal investigation.
If you have a mind to raise a formal grievance, you really need to do that before you resign and leave. Please do not resign without considering all your options very carefully. The fact that your health is suffering suggest that something is wrong. This alone should be a justification for proceeding with a formal complaint. Simply follow the in-house grievance policy on how to raise a complaint and seek advice if you feel you need to. You need to tell your employer as a matter of priority, how you feel. One might even say you have an obligation to report the bullying to management.
Set your concerns out, in writing, in accordance with the company Stage 1 Grievance policy.
On receipt of a formal complaint your employer is required to arrange for your formal Stage 1 Grievance to be investigated by someone who is not implicated in your complaint and who is both skilled and impartial. We cannot predict the outcome or even know at this stage whether you will be believed but the more evidence you have gathered in your diary, the more emails and documentary evidence you have, and the comprehensive and structured approach to the process - the more likely you are to succeed in persuading the investigator that you have been wronged.
Make it clear that you want to resolve matters amicably. Propose positive suggestions in this respect and keep an open mind with regard to training and potential changes in the workplace. Your complaint will likely succeed if you remain professional and flexible throughout the process. Cooperate with the investigator and tell them exactly why you are aggrieved.
At the conclusion of the process you are entitled to receive a written outcome from the investigator or from your employer. This will be in the form of a letter which advises you whether your complaint is upheld, or not. If your complaint is not upheld, you employer has a contractual obligation to advise you, in writing, that you can appeal ie: raise a Stage 2 Appeal. Your employer should tell you how to appeal and who to submit your appeal to.
By this point, you might want to seek the support of an employment law expert.
Whether your complaint is upheld, or not (see Stage 2 Appeal below) working relations may be strained. If you complained about a colleague or line manager your relationship with that particular individual may be strained or may even break down completely. It is up to your employer to manage the working relationship between you and others and decide whether changes will need to be made in the workplace. You cannot ‘reasonably refuse’ to work with a colleague, a team or a particular manager. However, you can point out your concerns and ask your employer, under their duty of care, to provide a safe and stress-free place of work for you. This may result in changes. If it involves making changes within the workplace ie: a transfer or change of line manager, your employer will need to present those proposals to you. You can decline if you have good reason but you do need to be reasonable. It is advisable to accept those changes if you want to continue working for the same employer.
An ideal outcome would be for those in conflict to agree to mediation so that you can continue to work together wherever reasonably practical.
If your Stage 1 Grievance is not upheld, you have a contractual right to appeal. This can be very distressing but it is a contractual right. Most employees (not all) are signed off work with Work Related Stress by this point in the process.
The Appeals process is a mirror of the Stage 1 process but another, impartial, investigator will need to be appointed by the employer. The Stage 1 process is repeated.
If you are embarking on a Stage 2 Grievance Appeals process, we advise you to seek support through that process. It may be that the working relationship has completely broken down. Your case may be complex. Your employer may even refuse to accept that there is a problem.
Only a rogue employer will penalise an employee for raising a complaint. If this happens in your case but you have kept important documents (minutes or file notes of meetings and emails etc)., you should be able to prove the order of events and make a case of victimisation.
A good employer will want a disgruntled employee to speak out, so that they can address risks within the workplace. If you feel, after a complaints process has been exhausted, that you are being victimised for raising a complaint, you should tell your employer how you feel. Do this in writing. Submit your written concerns to a senior manager who has not been involved in the case. If there is no one, send it to the most senior person in the organisation and ask them to arrange for your complaint to be heard by someone impartial.
You should never be disciplined or dismissed for raising a formal complaint either unless your complaint was entirely vexatious (ie: false or for ulterior motive). Your employer would need to have strong evidence that your complaint was a deliberate attempt to undermine a colleague or management and waste their time. Even then, you should not be punished as you have a right to speak out where something is impacting on your health. The Grievance outcome process should address any concerns that the employer has in this respect, without the need for formal disciplinary action.
If you and your employer cannot reach agreement, you may feel that it would be unsafe to continue to work in the environment that both caused your health to suffer and resulted in a formal grievance process in the first place.
You are advised to seek professional advice from an HR expert or an Employment Law firm before you resign. If you are a Trade Union member, your Union should advise you. Be wary though of the Union Representative that is employed by the same employer. They may be conflicted out. In that case, seek advice from someone who is independent.
Whatever your situation, we urge you to consider your options carefully. Talk to an employment law expert or call a helpline before you make a life-changing decision, either way. Importantly, you need to risk assess your case and fully understand the risks associated with escalating your case to an employment tribunal, for example. The legal process can be lengthy, costly and extraordinarily stressful.
Above all, put your health, your welfare and your loved ones first.