Grievance procedure - How to handle an employee grievance?

Grievance means any type of dissatisfaction or discontentment’s arising out of factors related to an employee’s job which he thinks are unfair. A grievance arises when an employee feels that something has happened or is happening to him which he thinks is unfair, unjust or inequitable. In an organization, a grievance may arise due to several factors such as:

  • Violation of management’s responsibility such as poor working conditions

  • Violation of company’s rules and regulations

  • Violation of labor laws

  • Violation of natural rules of justice such as unfair treatment in promotion, etc.

Various sources of grievance may be categorized under three heads: (i) management policies, (ii) working conditions, and (iii) personal factors

  1. Grievance resulting from management policies include:

    • Wage rates

    • Leave policy

    • Overtime

    • Lack of career planning

    • Role conflicts

    • Lack of regard for collective agreement

    • Disparity between skill of worker and job responsibility

2. Grievance resulting from working conditions include:

    • Poor safety and bad physical conditions

    • Unavailability of tools and proper machinery

    • Negative approach to discipline

    • Unrealistic targets

3. Grievance resulting from inter-personal factors include

    • Poor relationships with team members

    • Autocratic leadership style of superiors

    • Poor relations with seniors

    • Conflicts with peers and colleagues

It is necessary to distinguish a complaint from grievance. A complaint is an indication of employee dissatisfaction that has not been submitted in written. On the other hand, a grievance is a complaint that has been put in writing and made formal.

Grievances are symptoms of conflicts in industry.

Management should be concerned with both complaints and grievances, because both may be important indicators of potential problems within the workforce. Without a grievance procedure, management may be unable to respond to employee concerns since managers are unaware of them. Therefore, a formal grievance procedure is a valuable communication tool for the organization.


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Grievance Procedure

Grievance procedure is a Step by step process an employee must follow to get his or her complaint addressed satisfactorily. In this process, the formal (written) complaint moves from one level of authority (of the firm and the union) to the next higher level.

Grievance procedure is a formal communication between an employee and the management designed for the settlement of a grievance. The grievance procedures differ from organization to organization.

    1. Open door policy

    2. Step-ladder policy

Open door policy:

Under this policy, the aggrieved employee is free to meet the top executives of the organization and get his grievances redressed. Such a policy works well only in small organizations. However, in bigger organizations, top management executives are usually busy with other concerned matters of the company. Moreover, it is believed that open door policy is suitable for executives; operational employees may feel shy to go to top management.

Step ladder policy:

Under this policy, the aggrieved employee has to follow a step by step procedure for getting his grievance redressed. In this procedure, whenever an employee is confronted with a grievance, he presents his problem to his immediate supervisor. If the employee is not satisfied with superior’s decision, then he discusses his grievance with the departmental head. The departmental head discusses the problem with joint grievance committees to find a solution. However, if the committee also fails to redress the grievance, then it may be referred to chief executive. If the chief executive also fails to redress the grievance, then such a grievance is referred to voluntary arbitration where the award of arbitrator is binding on both the parties.

How to handle an employee grievance?

    1. Establish whether the grievance needs to be resolved formally or informally.

    2. Choose an appropriate manager to deal with the grievance.

    3. Carry out a full investigation and gather all relevant evidence, sending it to the employee in advance of the meeting.

    4. Arrange the grievance meeting, inviting the employee and reminding them of their statutory right to be accompanied.

    5. Make sure accurate notes are taken throughout by a person who is not involved in the case.

    6. Give the employee the opportunity to explain the details of their grievance and what they would like the outcome to be.

    7. Adjourn the meeting consider the evidence before making a decision.

    8. Inform the employee in writing of the decision, explaining how and why the decision was reached.

    9. Notify the employee of their right to appeal against the outcome of the grievance procedure.


The 15th session of Indian Labor Conference held in 1957 emphasized the need of an established grievance procedure for the country which would be acceptable to unions as well as to management. In the 16th session of Indian Labor Conference, a model for grievance procedure was drawn up. This model helps in creation of grievance machinery. According to it, workers’ representatives are to be elected for a department or their union is to nominate them. Management has to specify the persons in each department who are to be approached first and the departmental heads who are supposed to be approached in the second step.

The Model Grievance Procedure specifies the details of all the steps that are to be followed while redressing grievances. These steps are:

STEP 1: In the first step the grievance is to be submitted to departmental representative, who is a representative of management. He has to give his answer within 48 hours.

STEP 2: If the departmental representative fails to provide a solution, the aggrieved employee can take his grievance to head of the department, who has to give his decision within 3 days.

STEP 3: If the aggrieved employee is not satisfied with the decision of departmental head, he can take the grievance to Grievance Committee. The Grievance Committee makes its recommendations to the manager within 7 days in the form of a report. The final decision of the management on the report of Grievance Committee must be communicated to the aggrieved employee within three days of the receipt of report. An appeal for revision of final decision can be made by the worker if he is not satisfied with it. The management must communicate its decision to the worker within 7 days.

STEP 4: If the grievance still remains unsettled, the case may be referred to voluntary arbitration.