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Ask the expert: Grievance response time


This week the experts, Martin Brewer and Esther Smith consider what an employer needs to do to respond to a grievance raised by an employee – and in what timeframe?

The question: Grievance response time – how long do we have?

If you raise a grievance with your employer, how long do they have to respond? If they do not respond, what are the employee’s options?

Legal advice:

Martin Brewer, partner, Mills & Reeve

Since the abolition of the statutory grievance and disciplinary procedures, there is no longer any statute law on dealing with grievances.  However, in 2009, ACAS produced a Code of Practice and guidance for employers on handling grievances and disciplinaries.

In relation to grievances, the Code says that the employer should hold a grievance meeting “without unreasonable delay” following receipt of the grievance and everyone concerned should “make every effort to attend”. The guidance, which accompanies the Code, is a little more explicit and says that employers should try to deal with grievances informally if possible, but if that’s not possible, and a formal approach is necessary, then the employer must deal with the matter promptly, act consistently, hold a meeting to establish what the grievance is about, investigate the grievance, decide on appropriate action and allow an appeal if the employee doesn’t think the grievance has been resolved.  All of this is to be done without unreasonable delay.

Of course, most employers have a written grievance procedure and must follow that (but bear in mind the ACAS guidance).

If your employer fails to do some or all of this you could raise three possible arguments. The first is dependent on what is in your contract. If there is a contractual grievance procedure or if there is a term in your contract that says something like the employer will deal with grievances promptly or appropriately, and it doesn’t, then you can argue that there is a breach of an express term. However, if you haven’t suffered any financial loss it would be a rather pointless claim. Second, if there’s nothing in your contract and no contractual procedure, you could argue that there is an implied term in your contract that the employer will deal promptly and reasonably with your grievance and has failed to do so. Again, in the absence of financial loss it is difficult to understand the point of such a claim. Finally there is the ‘nuclear’ option. If your employer has behaved so badly in failing to deal with your serious complaints that you want to leave, you could argue that the failure to deal properly with the grievance is not just a breach of an implied or express term about grievances, but is also a breach of trust and confidence entitling you to treat yourself as dismissed and claim constructive unfair dismissal. This is a big step and a difficult claim to make out, so do take detailed advice if you are considering this option.

Martin Brewer can be contacted at [email protected]. For further information, please visit Mills & Reeve.


Esther Smith, partner, Thomas Eggar

As there is no statutorily prescribed grievance procedure, the time frame to be complied with by an employer will either be that prescribed by their own internal procedures or alternatively a ‘reasonable’ time frame. What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances of each situation, the nature of the grievance raised, the level of investigation required by the employer, the absence of any relevant people for any reason etc.

If an employer does not reply to the grievance within the prescribed time frames of their own policy, or an employee feels their response is outside of a reasonable time period, the employee should raise this as and when the company does respond.

However if the employer fails to respond at all, the employee would be best advised to raise their grievance higher within the company. It is very rare in my experience for absolutely no one in the business to be concerned about what an employee is complaining about, even if the direct line manager is not interest. Ultimately the employee’s sanction if the employer continues to ignore the grievance, would be to resign and claim constructive dismissal (assuming they have a year’s service) but there may be other remedies depending on the nature of the grievance being raised. Advice should be sought on a specific situation, and always before an employee takes the step of resigning from their position.

Esther Smith is a partner in Thomas Eggar’s Employment Law Unit. For further information, please visit Thomas Eggar.

10 Responses

  1. Good morning
    Good morning
    Im in desperate need of some advise, i have been off work for nearly a year now due to being stabbed next to my heart i have been off all this time with an anxiety disorder, work has not contacted me to see if am ok just to get an updated sick-line, i contacted work to let them know things are getting better and give them a date of return which was Monday just gone, cut long story short, no-one picked me up i contacted my line manager with no reply i actually contacted 3 different people with no reply sent them all a txt so i know they got my txt to ask whats going on and still today Wednesday still nothing from work, now i feel so worthless and feel like they have just made to so much harder for me to return, i have given this company 11 years of hard work, i really do not know which way to turn or where i stand please please can someone help me

    1. Hi Steven,
      Hi Steven,

      I’m so sorry to hear what you’re going through and that your employer is not responding to your messages. Unfortunately we are not in a position to offer advice as this is not within our remit as a publication. However, you could call Acas, which is a helpline offering free and impartial advice to employees and employers.

      Here’s the website:

      Here’s the web page on how to make a call:

      And here is their number: 0300 123 1100

      I hope this helps, and that the issue is smoothly resolved for you.

      Best wishes,

  2. Hi

    I raised a grievance back on 23rd November 2017 about a direct impact of loss of earnings caused by a General Manager. I have had 1 meeting and 1 email regarding this to date. I have tried to call the HR department on 5 occasions to never to be called back. Part of my grievance stated that i could not continue my role (which the company paid for relocation the way things were going). I now have to pay to return to my old area myself and believe they have said we are dealing with it anymore due to leaving the area. I will remain working for the same company surely they should deal with this?

  3. Hi,

    I’m just looking for a bit of advice. I have just returned to work from being off work on long term sick with PTSD/Stress and anxiety. My employer is trying to raise a grievance against me from 6 months ago.

    Can this be lawfully done considering the length of time??

    Thanks in advance

  4. I have a case were two
    I have a case were two managers had a conflict – there was verbal abuse, and threatening behavior.

    One of the managers refuses to attend the grievance hearing. The manager doesnt want to resolve the issue.

    Please advise on what can be done

  5. I wrote to my employer after
    I wrote to my employer after being off sick with stress for three months and requested that a mediation session was set up between myself and my manager who i felt had some responsibility for my stress related illness. My employer replied to me in writing saying that my correspondence could not be dealt with through mediation and they therefore decided to deal with this through their grievance procedure. Can they do this?

  6. Hi
    I would like some advice please, I had a grievance taken out against me at work by one of my employees back at the end of January. I had a meeting with my line manager on the 1st February where he took notes, I did not hear anything until today 1st march and still not sure what is happening with the grievance. It’s caused me stress and anxiety over the last four weeks / neatly five weeks. I was told at the first meeting by my line manager he had 3 weeks to resolve the issue, buts it’s now over 4 weeks. I don’t believe this is a rescosble time to resolve this issue and the investigation as not really been done in detail like I was told it would be in the first place ?
    Have read Acas say reasonable time but what does this actually mean ?

    Can I have some advice please

    1. Hi there
      Hi there
      Thanks for your question. This is an old article so don’t think the author will be able to respond. I’m sorry to hear of your troubles. I would very much recommend you actually call Acas on the helpline which is 0300 123 1100. It is available Monday 8am-8pm, Tuesday 8am-6pm, Wednesday to Thursday 8am-8pm and Friday 8am-6pm. They will be able to provide advice more specific to your case.
      Hope this helps.


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