What is a Grievance? (Filing, Meaning, & Laws)

If you are not familiar with the word grievance, this term refers to a complaint or protest, especially in relation to unfair treatment. In the workplace, grievance refers to a formal employee complaint based on a violation of contract or policy. Read more or request an attorney to help.

What Is a Grievance?

If you are not familiar with the word grievance, this term refers to a complaint or protest, especially in relation to unfair treatment. In the workplace, grievance refers to a formal employee complaint based on a violation of contract or policy.

This form of complaint may result from anything regarding noncompliance in regards to workplace policies. Both individuals and groups of employees may file a grievance, especially when they feel as though they were negatively impacted by their employer. Grievances can also result based on an issue between coworkers.

What Is the Procedure When Filing a Grievance?

A grievance procedure outlines key rules and the method used when documenting, discussing, and resolving workplace disputes. Most often, these steps are outlined and defined in a contract between a company's management and the union.

Grievances do not need to be contract-related in order to be considered.

When a suspected grievance occurs, the first step is to verify whether or not the complaint is valid and when the grievance began. To do so, an employee may discuss their concerns with their supervisor or directly report the individual in question. At this point, a union rep may be involved.

If an employee takes this initial step and the issue is not resolved, the grievance will escalate to the next level. However, the procedure itself does not need to be formal. In fact, this approach may actually deter those involved from coming forward.

Those working in a unionized workplace often experience a grievance when the company's employer does not comply with their collective bargaining agreement. This agreement is a written document that outlines conditions of employment, especially in regards to hours of work, pay, and the overall working conditions.

For example, a grievance may be filed if there is a violation in regards to an employee's pay schedule. In other cases, an employer may feel as though they are being forced to work in an unsafe environment. However, there is a wide range of reasons why a grievance would be filed.

As an employee, if you decide to file a grievance, it is important that you understand the strict procedures set by labor unions.

Before you take action, consider the following steps:

  1. When making a complaint, you must discuss your concerns with a union rep or another official.
  2. At that point, the union rep will complete a form to file for review. This can be done electronically or in-person, along with any other supporting documentation.
  3. The grievance will then be tracked as it proceeds through arbitration, either by the labor union or a grievance representative.

Commonly resolved through arbitration or mediation, if an employee is unhappy with the result, the situation may need to escalate once again. That is why companies should remain proactive and uphold their policies to prevent these types of issues from occurring.

Although grievance procedures are most commonly used when resolving employee-related disputes, they can also be used when addressing issues with customers, suppliers, and competitors. That is why every workplace, whether there's a union or not, must create and clearly outline grievance procedures.

Bottom line: Grievance procedures are created in order to help management identify potential issues within the workplace before they have a chance to negatively impact employee satisfaction. These procedures also offer a reliable communication channel between employees and their management team.

My Employer Violated a Contract -- Now What?

Each organization is unique, resulting in varying grievance procedures. If you are employed by a small business, for instance, your employee manual may only scratch the surface when it comes to grievance procedures. In this case, peer review or the assistance of an ombudsman may be the appropriate approach.

The most important thing is to understand what exactly a grievance is so that you can take informed action regarding a complaint. Of course, you will want to review your workplace contract first, paying special attention to grievance-related rules. For example, your contract may state specific steps and timelines for filing.

Remember, even if your grievance is rational, if you do not follow the guidelines in your contract, your claim may be determined invalid.

If you are unsure about what to do next, contact your union rep to discuss whether or not you should file and how to do so.

How to File a Grievance

If you feel as though you are ready to file a grievance, there are certain steps you'll need to take. First, you should reference your contract, as it should include a specific section on grievance procedures. This information will guide you so that you can take the appropriate steps. As discussed above, this will ensure that your claim is not later deemed invalid.

When you experience a situation that would potentially lead to a grievance, you should contact your union rep or steward. At this point, you will be given a grievance investigation form.

In order to successfully fill this form out, you'll need to know:

  1. Who is involved
  2. What exactly happened
  3. Where the incident occurred
  4. Why it qualifies as a grievance
  5. How the issue should be resolved

Ideally, your first course of action would be to verbally express your concerns with a supervisor or manager. That way, there is an opportunity for the grievance to be rectified informally.

Most often, these types of issues are resolved without needing to put them in writing. Some of the most common approaches include the use of an employee assistance program, the implementation of union-based problem-solving techniques, and general mediation via a non-biased third-party.

If you believe that other employees have experienced similar circumstances, you can discreetly reach out to strengthen your claim. When a grievance is fairly serious, some employees will consult a lawyer to ensure their voice is heard. If you decide to go this route, make sure that you have a compromise in-place, as you will likely experience push back.

In the case of workplace unions, if you file a grievance, the initial procedure will begin as soon as you contact a supervisor. At that point, they will have a certain amount of time to either respond (in order to resolve the issue) or escalate the grievance. Depending on the size of the organization, it may be passed on to another supervisor.

If there is no resolution, the grievance will continue to travel up the chain of command. Eventually, it may reach the president of your local union. Once again, it is imperative to follow the outlined procedures. If you do not, the grievance may be dropped.

Need help filing a grievance? Thervo has a trusted network of over 5,000 lawyers to properly handle this for you. Get free estimates from employment law attorneys near you.

What Other Information Should I Document and Include?

If you have discussed your concerns with supervisors and feel as though a written grievance is the next step, it is critical that you have all the supporting information you require. A union rep can help you prepare your formal complaint.

However, you will need to have a grasp on the following information:

  • The time and date of the incident that led to the grievance
  • The name of the person you are filing the grievance against (as well as the name of the person filing)
  • The current step with the outlined grievance procedure
  • The facts that support the claim
  • A description of the contract and how it was violated
  • A suggested solution that would resolve the grievance
Please note: Your contract may state unique requirements that must be included in a written grievance. Always review your contract before filing a written grievance to ensure compliance.

Examples of Complaints Outside of Contract Violations

As mentioned, not every issue will be related to a contract violation. A classic example would be a disruptive conflict between two employees. In other cases, an issue may arise between an employee and a manager. More often than not, since these issues do not violate an agreement and upper management is not involved, they can be resolved without needing to file a written grievance.

If you can relate to one of these situations, you can still contact your union rep. Although it is unlikely that you will be able to file a grievance, they will suggest other forms of resolution. Some of your options may include learning new problem-solving techniques, setting up a mediation meeting, or connecting you with related employee assistance programs.

Overall, whether a grievance involves a violated contract or not, the most common examples include:

  1. Issues surrounding pay and benefits
  2. Concerns regarding bullying (there should be a zero-tolerance policy in place)
  3. Poor or unsafe work conditions (i.e. health hazards, cleanliness, workplace temperatures, etc.)
  4. Unfair workload
  5. Insufficient growth opportunities

Can Grievances Be Filed Against Coworkers?

Since this type of agreement is made between the union and management, individual employees can not file a grievance against another employee. With that being said, conflicts between employees can still be reported and a grievance can be filed against the employer.

For example, if an employee is being sexually harassed by a coworker, a complaint can be made against the employer for not properly protecting the employee from sexual harassment.

You cannot, however, file a grievance if you believe that a supervisor is unprofessional or is not fully competent. It is only once they violate your workplace contract that you can file a grievance. Of course, there are some limitations, especially in regards to the "he said, she said" nature of many workplace conflicts.

In summary, to address a potential grievance, first speak informally with your manager. At that point, your concern will likely be resolved. If not, you should refer to the formal grievance procedure, as outlined in your workplace manual/contract. If you decide to take legal action, keep a paper trail to support the investigation.

It is important that you understand your rights. Once you feel as though those rights have been violated within a workplace setting, you will need to take appropriate action.

Thousands of people ask Thervo for legal advice every year. We connect them with our trusted network of over 5,000 lawyers to properly handle all their legal needs. If you require legal counsel, you can seek the support of an attorney on Thervo.

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