Employee Grievance Policy

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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.[1]

An employee grievance policy can help your organization to:

    1. Resolve problems
    2. Increase employee satisfaction
    3. Avoid litigation[2]

Getting Started

When creating an employee grievance policy, a manager should:

    1. Step One: Research and understand employee rights.
    2. Step Two: Outline who the employee should contact with his/her grievance.
    3. Step Three: Identify what information the employee should include in the grievance.

Step One: Researching and understanding employee rights will help the manager to recognize which grievances have legal implications and which do not, and 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.

Step Two: 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.

Step Three: 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.

Going Further

    1. Step One: Share the information.
    2. Step Two: Outline procedures for mediation and arbitration.

Step One: It is important to create a written policy and share it with your staff members. This ensures that employee know how to report complaints and concern and feel that they have voice.

Step Two: 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. The American Arbitration Association offers a guide to help businesses in this process. 

Best Practices

    1. Step One: Create a written grievance policy.
    2. Step Two: Including a “no retaliation” clause in the grievance policy.
    3. Step Three: Respond to complaints in a timely manner.
    4. Step Four: Listening to and showing respect for all parties involved.

A “no retaliation” clause, or a clause that states employees will not be punished (e.g., ridiculed, demoted, fired) for making a complaint, and helps make employees comfortable with voicing their concerns. 

Resources for More Information

Palgrave Macmillan provides a learning activity, which allows managers to practice interviewing employees with grievances.


A grievance policy shows that your organization cares about its staff and gives employees “a sense of voice” in the organization.[3] 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.

[1] Wendy Boswell and Julie Olson-Buchanan, “Experiencing Mistreatment at Work: the Role of Grievance Filing, Nature of Mistreatment, and Employee Withdrawal,” The Academy of Management Journal 47, no. 1 (February 2004): 130.

[2] “Grievance Procedures and Internal Dispute Resolution,” Nonprofit Risk Management Center, accessed 1 July 2013, http://www.nonprofitrisk.org/library/articles/employment01002000.shtml.

[3] Dennis M. Daley, Strategic Human Resource Management: People and Performance Management in the Public Sector (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001), 237.

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