In my HR career I’ve dealt with plenty of grievances, but as a freelancer, I now find I’m often working for the employee when it comes to disputes! I never condone employees using a grievance as a stick to beat their employer with - but getting justice for the ‘little guy’ up against an unscrupulous employer is a source of great job satisfaction! As is writing a good grievance letter (very therapeutic!) So here are my top 10 tops for presenting a great grievance letter...
1. Split the grievance into distinct bullet points covering the different aspects of the grievance (e.g. key incidents of bullying and harassment or unfair treatment). Make sure that the investigating manager covers each of the points individually to be sure of a full and fair consideration of each point!
2. Be specific – include details of dates, times, places, witnesses, comments etc. This will make it all more credible than making unsubstantiated generalisations. But at the same time...
3. ...don’t ramble or present a War and Peace of extraneous detail. Make sure it’s all relevant!
4. Be factual and descriptive when describing events, but make a point of describing the impact on your health and wellbeing. If the circumstances of your complaint have lead to you suffering from undue pressure and stress, having a detrimental effect on your physical, emotional and psychological health, then say so! But be specific with your symptoms as well as describing how you feel.
5. Don’t get too carried away with emotive language, as that could undermine your reliability as your own witness! Explain your emotions as objectively as you can – no insults or swearies!
6. Where possible, back up your complaint with impartial detail from a trustworthy source such as websites – e.g. if you are making allegations of bullying and have described someone’s behaviour, refer to a website that cites that kind of behaviour as being examples of bullying. Again, it corroborates your statements and gives added credence to your claims.
7. Use assertive language, particularly ‘I’ statements such as ‘I believe/feel/think’ etc. These are very powerful, as you’re taking ownership of your views and feelings without stating them as facts. If you make a bald assertion such as ‘This is...’, it’s easy for someone to challenge or oppose it. But no-one can tell you what you believe or feel, so this is a way of getting your point across without fear of contradiction!
8. Say what outcome you would ideally like, or would be prepared to consider, or what you think may resolve the issue. This could be an end point, or may involve bringing in mediators etc. But...
9. ...don’t refer to payoffs or compromise agreements etc. as this stage, as you’ll just look like a gold-digger who’s in it for the cash. Again, this could undermine your position! You can subtly imply that you’re prepared to leave quietly if the price is right, but wait for the employer to put that on the table.
10. Finally, don’t come across as litigious or threatening. Again, you can drop hints that you’re prepared to take things as far as you need to if you feel your case merits it, but don’t start bandying about threats of tribunals or industrial action etc. Otherwise your claims will seem vexatious rather than valid!
The golden rule though, is Don’t Fib! Be honest and truthful in any grievance – remember, you are trying to right a wrong, not wreak revenge against a manager who’s given you too much work and a few funny looks!
HR, employment law & training consultant for the Not-For-Profit sector
I am a fully qualified HR and training professional with over 18 years’ post-graduate experience. I am a Fellow Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a qualified Specialist Employment Law Paralegal , & a registered Investors In People Specialist. I have worked in a variety of industries , and now focus mainly in the non-profit sector. I particularly specialise in start-up HR functions for SMEs, including writing all required staffing policies and procedures and staff handbooks, and designing & delivering training for line management and staff on key issues, business & personal effectiveness skills. I'm a regular guest speaker for the CIPD, City Business Library's seminar programme & other organisations, & frequently featured on TV, radio & the press as an HR & employment law expert.