What It Is
An employee grievance policy outlines how an employee can report a problem he/she has at work. It also identifies how the organization handles a grievance after the employee reports it.
Why It Matters
Employees are more likely to remain engaged at work if they feel that their managers treat them fairly. When managers disregard employee complaints, it can lead to “employee withdrawal behavior,” such as shirking responsibilities, subversion, or quitting.
An employee grievance policy can help your organization to
- Resolve problems
- Increase employee satisfaction
- Avoid litigation
When creating an employee grievance policy, a manager should
- Research and understand employee rights
- Outline who the employee should contact with his/her grievance
- Identify what information the employee should include in the grievance
Researching and understanding employee rights will help the manager to
- Recognize which grievances have legal implications and which do not
- Make a stronger, more comprehensive grievance policy
Employee rights vary depending on which state the employee works in, as well as whether he/she works in the private sector or public sector. The Department of Labor provides a summary of its major employee protection laws and the North Carolina Department of Labor offers a helpful FAQ page. A manager may also wish to consult an attorney to ensure that the policy supports employees’ legal rights.
In larger organizations, employees should report their grievances to a human resources (HR) representative. In smaller organizations, the manager can designate a higher-level employee to handle staff complaints and concerns. If an employee has a complaint about the person designated to handle grievances, the policy should indicate another person to whom the employee can report.
South Carolina’s state government job website provides a model grievance policy, which may prove helpful when drafting a new policy or revising an existing one. Also, you can access sample grievance letter templates here. Employees may find that a template helps them organize and articulate their concerns more clearly.
Share the Information
It is important to create a written policy and share it with your staff members. This ensures that employees
- Know how to report complaints and concerns
- Feel that they have voice
Mediation and Arbitration
Sometimes it may prove difficult to resolve a problem “in house.” In these situations, it may be useful to enlist the help of a neutral party, such as a mediator, arbitrator, or ombudsman (See Glossary Section below). The American Arbitration Association offers a guide to help businesses in this process.
Best practices for dealing with employee grievances include
- Creating a written grievance policy
- Including a “no retaliation” clause in the grievance policy
- Responding to complaints in a timely manner
- Listening to and showing respect for all parties involved
Having a written policy makes it easier to share the information with staff.
A “no retaliation” clause, or a clause that states employees will not be punished (e.g., ridiculed, demoted, fired) for making a complaint, may make employees more comfortable with voicing their concerns.
Resources for More Information
A grievance policy shows that your organization cares about its staff and gives employees “a sense of voice” in the organization. It can also help resolve problems and keep them from affecting your business.
Glossary of Related Terms
Arbitrator: a person chosen to decide a dispute or settle differences, especially one formally empowered to examine the facts and decide the issue.
Mediator: a person who mediates, especially between parties at variance.
Ombudsman: a government official who hears and investigates complaints by private citizens against other officials or government agencies.
 Information retrieved from Experiencing Mistreatment at Work: the Role of Grievance Filing, Nature of Mistreatment, and Employee Withdrawal by Wendy Boswell and Julie Olson-Buchanan (p. 130), http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/stable/pdfplus/20159565.pdf?acceptTC=true
 List retrieved from Nonprofit Risk Management Center website, http://www.nonprofitrisk.org/library/articles/employment01002000.shtml
 Information retrieved from HRTools website, http://www.hrtools.com/legal_compliance/articles/how_to_create_an_employee_grievance_policy.aspx
 Daley, Dennis M. (2002) Chapter Nine: Employee Rights in Strategic Human Resource Management: People and Performance Management in the Public Sector. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall (p. 237).