What is a personal grievance?

A personal grievance is the phrase used to describe a complaint made about a workplace problem. 

A personal grievance can be about any of the following issues, as well as some others:

Format of a grievance

An employee can raise a personal grievance by telling you about it, or by notifying you in writing.  A grievance has to contain sufficient detail in order to explain the problem, and what the employee would like done about it.

Time limits to raise a grievance

An employee must raise their grievance within 90 days of an incident happening, or within 90 days of becoming aware of the problem.  If a grievance is raised outside of the 90-day period, you can decline to deal with it (unless the Employment Relations Authority has ordered an extension in time), or you can agree to deal with it even though it has been raised out of time. 

Anonymous complaints

If an employee wants to make an anonymous complaint about another employee, you will have to tell them that you cannot take the matter any further unless they are willing to make a formal complaint on record.  A person accused of any wrongdoing has the right to know who their accuser is, so that they have a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations raised against them. 

You will have to balance the rights of the accused carefully with the rights of the alleged victim.  To read more about your obligations to the complainant during an investigation, click here.

How to avoid a personal grievance…

The most effective ways to reduce the risk of a personal grievance is to ensure that there is a very clear employment agreement in place, workplace policies are clear and easily accessible, you are keeping good records, you are acting in good faith towards each other, and you know your obligations.  To read more about these tips, click here.

What to do if you are facing a personal grievance…

An employee can raise a grievance about something that happened at work, including about their work conditions, about how they are being treated by you, or by another person at work (for instance a client or a work colleague). 

Check relevant documents and laws

The first step in dealing with a grievance is to check the relevant employment agreement, work place policies, and applicable laws to make sure you understand your obligations.  If you are unsure about this, you should seek advice.

Take immediate steps to prevent escalation

If the grievance touches on safety concerns, you should consider what is required to address the risk to safety, while the matter is being investigated.  For instance if there is a complaint about bullying, harassment or discrimination, you may need to offer the affected employee an alternative option to stay out of harm’s way (for instance garden leave, alternative work hours, alternative work location, or different types of work). 

You should also consider whether it is necessary to suspend another employee, if they have been accused of wrong-doing (for instance being a bully, or not following health and safety rules). 

Suspension

Before you suspend an employee, you should make sure that you have the  to do so.  You should also follow a fair process before suspending them.  Suspension would typically be on full pay. 

Investigation

Once you have taken immediate steps to deal with the grievance escalating into a bigger problem, you will need to investigate the allegations set out in the grievance.  An investigation could include checking records, documents and footage; interviewing witnesses and victims; getting advice on your obligations; and so on.  If you have the resources available, you can also hire an external independent investigator to complete these steps for you. 

It is important to make sure that you keep accurate notes and records of the investigation.  If you are interviewing people, you should ask them for their permission to audio record the meeting to ensure that you have an accurate record of what was said.  If you are considering other material like documents or footage, you should have copies of these as part of the investigation file.

Once you have collected all the information you intend to take into account in making your decision about the grievance, you should first give the alleged perpetrator (if there is one) a chance to look over the material, so that they can comment.  The alleged perpetrator’s comments should be taken into account with an open mind, before you make any final decisions.

Made a decision

If there is no other person involved (for instance the grievance relates to a contractual term that has been breached rather than bullying or harassment), you should make a decision about whether the grievance is made out, or not.  If not, you should let the affected employee know your decision.  If the employee accepts your decision, the matter will be at an end.  If not, then you will have an employment dispute on your hands.

If another person is involved in the grievance, you will have to make a decision about whether disciplinary action needs to be taken against that person.  To read more about disciplinary action, click here

How to resolve an employment dispute

If you and the employee who raised the grievance cannot resolve the issue between yourselves, you should seek advice from a professional experienced in the area.  They would be able to help you negotiate a mutually acceptable solution in many cases.  If however, you still cannot agree on how to resolve the situation, you can seek assistance from Mediation Services.  To read more about mediation, click here

If mediation is unsuccessful, the aggrieved employee can lodge their complaint with the Employment Relations Authority (ERA).  The Authority will hear evidence from both parties, and make a final decision about what should happen.  To read more about the Authority, click here.

Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-price Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.


If you are a New Zealand Super Gold Card Holder (Australian Senior Cards do not qualify) we will give you a 75% discount off our initial 1 hour consultation fee. We will also give you a 17.5% discount off the first matter we handle for you and then 12.5 % off any subsequent matters for you.  These discounts relate to your personal matters only (i.e. not business or organisational matters).