From grievance to Tribunal – Understanding the employment dispute resolution process

8th September 2023
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Workplace disagreements and disputes are a natural part of any working environment.

However, when these disagreements escalate or become serious, employees may raise grievances as a means to redress these issues, and understanding the process is essential for employers.

It ensures fairness, professionalism, and adherence to both the Employer’s rules and the rule of law.

If the matter cannot be resolved then the risk is that internal grievance procedures escalate into expensive formal legal proceedings, before the Employment tribunal.

Here’s a breakdown to help you navigate the complexities of this process.

The internal grievance procedure

For any dispute or grievance, employers have to follow their own processes and procedures, which should follow the Acas code as this allows for a fair and full procedure.

The aim in the first instance is to resolve issues, in so far as it may be possible to do so, and to allow the employment relationship to continue.

If the case goes to an Employment Tribunal, the procedure followed will be taken into account, and that can affect both the fairness of any decision and the value of any compensation.

Informal discussion

It is usually recommended and should be drafted into any policy that the employee should raise the issue with their employer with a view to having an informal discussion before any formal steps are taken.

This is a chance to voice concerns, clarify misunderstandings, and ideally find a resolution without further escalation.

However, the employer cannot compel an employee to do so, and the ACAS Code does not make this a specific requirement.

Written grievance

If informal discussions don’t resolve the issue, the next step is for the employee to submit a formal, written grievance.

This document should detail the nature of the complaint, provide evidence, and suggest potential solutions.

Employer’s response

Upon receiving the grievance, the employer should:

  1. Invite the employee into a meeting to discuss the grievance, and how it may be resolved. The employee must be allowed to be accompanied at the meeting by a trade union representative or a colleague.
  2. investigate the matter thoroughly before making any decision.

As part of any investigation the Employer may need to speak to other employees, examine documents or other evidence, and review policies.

After a comprehensive review, they should respond in writing, detailing their findings and any proposed resolutions.

If the Employee is unhappy with the outcome, then they must also be provided with a route of appeal by which to raise any challenges they may wish, and upon receipt of any appeal the employer should arrange a further meeting to discuss the appeal. Ideally, and where possible, this should be chaired by a person who has not previously dealt with the grievance and is not named in it.


If the grievance isn’t resolved at the internal level, then:

  1. Mediation may be a beneficial next step;
  2. Early Conciliation with ACAS will be required before a claim can be issued in the Employment Tribunal

A neutral third party (called a mediator or a Conciliator) facilitates a discussion between the disputing parties to help them reach a mutually acceptable agreement.

This method can be quicker and less confrontational than more formal methods.

Please note that Mediation is not a requirement under the Employment Tribunal Rules, but Early Conciliation is mandatory.

Employment Tribunal

If the issue remains unresolved, the next step might be to bring the case to an employment tribunal.

In brief a Claim will require the following steps to be taken

  • Submission of an ET 1 Claim Form
    The aggrieved party (often the employee) submits a claim to the tribunal detailing their case and the alleged breaches of employment rights.
  • Response by way of an ET 3 Form
    Upon receiving the claim, the employer is required to provide a formal response, detailing their perspective on the case and presenting any counterarguments.

Preliminary hearings

In some cases, preliminary hearings are held to clarify certain points or decide on procedural matters before the full hearing.


The Tribunal will either of its own volition issue directions, or they will be provided at a Preliminary Hearing. This will usually include the provision of schedules of loss, disclosure of documents, details as to witness evidence to be exchanged, preparation of lists of issues, case summary and hearing bundles.

The hearing

Both parties will have the chance to present their evidence and witness testimonies before an Employment Judge (either sitting alone or with 2 lay representatives). After considering all the evidence, the tribunal will make a judgment.

This judgment can include, for a successful claimant orders as to compensation or in some certain instances recommendations, or such other specific actions the employer must undertake.


If either party believes there was an error in the tribunal’s decision, they might have the right to appeal to the specialised Employment Appeals Tribunal and thereafter to another higher Court.

Tips for navigating the employment dispute process:

  • Documentation: Always maintain thorough documentation of all interactions, decisions, and steps taken. This can be crucial for evidence if a dispute escalates.
  • Seek advice: Engage with professional bodies or legal experts familiar with employment law in your jurisdiction.
  • Stay professional: Regardless of the nature of the dispute, maintain professionalism. Avoid letting emotions dictate actions, which can lead to regrettable decisions, escalations, or comments being taken out of their context before the Employment Tribunal.
  • Open communication: Encourage an open-door policy where employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns.

If you would like to speak to someone about the tribunal process, please contact Jason Alcock or Victoria Ramshaw in our Employment and Dispute Resolution Team on 01543 267 238 or email or

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