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Bullying, Harassment and Employee Grievance Procedures

Workplace concerns and disputes, including bullying in the workplace, can affect employees at any level in any profession or industry. Such worries can have a serious impact on your performance and health, and significant consequences for staff morale and the working environment, so should never be ignored.

All employers should have a policy in place to deal with issues such as bullying. If your employer does not, then you can raise your concerns through a formal grievance procedure for employees. You can raising raise a grievance is to allow you, as an employee, to air any issues or concerns you may have about your work, such as treatment from colleagues, or proposed changes to workplace policies or procedures, or your reasons for bringing a grievance at work may also be linked to other wider issues such as discrimination in the workplace. In all such cases, tackling these concerns promptly is likely to prevent them festering and becoming more difficult to address later.

As many of us spend more time with colleagues at work than we do friends or family at home, bullying in the workplace can be a major issue. It can have a serious impact on your performance and health, and have significant consequences on staff morale and the working environment, so it should never be ignored. All employers should have a bullying policy in place to deal with any workplace bullying. If they do not, then the grievance procedure should be used.

Both employees and employers benefit from a workplace where grievances can be raised and dealt with properly, so maximising the likelihood of reaching a resolution.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some of our most frequently asked questions when it comes to raising a grievance or complaining of bullying or harassment at work.

Before raising a grievance, think about whether it is an appropriate way of dealing with your concerns. If you are worried about proposed changes to certain working requirements or about how you are treated, you may wish to speak to your line manager directly about this and they may be able to explain why these changes are proposed or address how you are being treated without the need for a grievance.

However, you may feel such an informal approach is not appropriate. You should then raise your grievance in writing to your line manager as this allows everybody to understand your concerns. If your grievance relates to your line manager, you should raise your grievance with your line manager’s supervisor or a more senior employee.

Depending on your situation, you could go for an informal or formal approach.

With an informal approach, you would discuss the issue with your line manager or HR department. They would speak with the individual concerned, to help ensure the behaviour stops. If you feel able, you may find it helpful to talk to the bully directly. Some industries are more prone to having employees who engage in ‘banter’ and they may not realise they have stepped over a line and are being offensive towards you. A reasonable individual, on hearing the effect their actions or remarks have on you, would agree to stop.

Alternatively, if you are dealing with someone who is difficult to deal with or is deliberately behaving badly towards you, then you may need to pursue a formal process.  Ask for a copy of your employer’s anti-bullying policy, and follow the procedure detailed within it. If there is no such policy, you should raise a grievance with your line manager in writing. Most employers will then start the process of investigating your complaint and holding a grievance hearing to enable you to explain what has been happening. If you feel a proper process has not been followed, you should seek legal advice.

The Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures sets out best practice for both grievance and disciplinary issues. While larger employers may have their own staff grievance procedures, they must still follow the basic principles of the Acas Code:

  • Grievances should always be raised in writing. This allows your employer to better understand your concerns.
  • The grievance hearing. This hearing is an opportunity to open dialogue and discuss the issues you have raised.Your employer should arrange the hearing as soon as is reasonably practicable but equally your employer also should be prepared to adjourn it if they believe further investigation is needed. 
  • Accompaniment at a grievance hearing. You are entitled to bring with you a trade union representative or workplace colleague. You do not ordinarily have an automatic right to bring a legal representative, friend or relative as your companion.
  • Conclusion of the grievance hearing. Following the hearing, your employer should consider the issues you have raised and provide you with a written outcome and explain the reasoning behind it. 
  • Appeal. If you feel your grievance has not properly been dealt with, you have a right to appeal that grievance outcome and your employer should give details as to how to do this. 

If you find out that you have upset a colleague, it may help to seek them out and apologise for any offence caused. An apology is often all that is wanted. If the allegation against you is serious then speak to someone in HR before you approach the person.

However, if a formal grievance has been submitted, you should remain calm and prepare to put forward your position as part of the grievance process:

  • Your employer should notify you of the grievance or complaint, and give you reasonable notice of the allegations raised to prepare your defence.
  • Keep records as evidence. This includes all memos, emails, notes, recordings, appraisals, etc. Having these items handy means they can be used to support your defence.
  • Be willing to participate in any informal resolution your employer may attempt. Even if you think you have done nothing wrong, this approach can sometimes bring about a speedier resolution.
  • If your employer prefers a more formal approach or the informal approach fails, you should receive notice of the grievance hearing. This is your opportunity to put forward your defence, but you have no right to legal representation at the hearing.
  • Get hearing notes or minutes. Raise any instances where you disagree with what has been recorded.
  • Once your employer has reached a decision on the grievance, you should be given notice of the grievance outcome and how that outcome affects you.

If your employer upholds the grievance, they may then decide to raise disciplinary proceedings against you on the basis of evidence obtained during the grievance process. However, grievance and disciplinary processes are entirely separate procedures and you will not automatically face disciplinary action.

In terms of preparing for a grievance hearing, it is mostly down to your employer to ensure a fair hearing.

As the employee, make sure that you are clear on the issues you have raised in your grievance. If necessary, refer to any documents that illustrate your concerns or support your grievance. Avoid introducing new concerns into your grievance at the hearing stage as this is likely to confuse matters.

Finally, you may wish to have someone come with you to the hearing. If you are a member of trade union, you can ask your union for union representation. Or, you can bring a workplace colleague, as long as they are not mentioned or involved in the grievance.

No. You only have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or work colleague to your grievance hearing. This is because at a grievance hearing you will not be facing any risk of dismissal or disciplinary charges. The hearing's purpose is to air concerns and provide explanations; it is not to sanction the grievance-raiser.

When it comes to bullying or harassment with a sexual element, you should speak immediately to your line manager or HR department.

You should raise a grievance in accordance with your employer’s grievance or bullying policy, and this is likely to prompt your employer to launch an investigation into your colleague's comments or actions. If your employer decides there is enough evidence of the issue, you should be advised of the steps the company proposes to take to protect you from further upset.

You may feel that you cannot raise the issue of sexual harassment with your employer. You may be concerned that you may lose face in the office, be ostracised, or that such behaviour is simply part of an office culture. Remember there is no place for sexual harassment in any workplace and you should consider getting legal advice if you feel that may help you in raising these concerns with your employer.

How can Thorntons help?

Thorntons specialist Employment Law team can advise you of your rights over raising a grievance, a complaint about bullying or harassment or discrimination in the workplace in Scotland, and how best to bring it to your employer’s attention. We can also provide employment law advice and support in relation to how your employer should handle your grievance, and rectify any workplace issues identified. Additionally, our employment lawyers can assist you if you feel your complaint has not been properly handled and discuss what next steps are open to you.

Call the Thorntons Employment Law team on 03330 430 350 to find out more about our services, or complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you.

Depending on your case and circumstances, the first step is usually to arrange an appointment to come into one of our local offices to meet an Employment Law Solicitor to discuss your situation and the way forward. We will outline your options and, depending on your circumstances, we can look at various funding options to help with your case costs.

Please note we do not offer Legal Aid for this service.