What Is a Grievance?

You may be wondering, "What is a grievance?" The word "grievance" is a formal employee complaint that is an accusation of a violation of workplace contract terms or policy, and could be a complaint about anything regarding being noncompliant in work policies or similar regulation. A grievance may be filed if an employee feels they were negatively affected by an employer. Individuals and groups can file grievances. They can relate to a contract violation or even violations of the collective bargaining agreement and other policies.

What Is the Grievance Procedure?

The grievance procedure lays out the rules and method for documenting, presenting, and settling workplace disputes. The meeting steps are usually defined in the contract between union and management. The first step in many procedures is to pinpoint where the grievance began, for example with a supervisor or direct report, who then must determine, along with the union rep, whether or not the grievance is valid. In cases where the grievance is not resolved, the case is escalated to the next level. It's not necessary that grievance procedures be formal; this may actually discourage people from coming forward.

Filing a Grievance

Every contract should include specific grievance procedures that outline the steps to be followed, so they are not deemed invalid. Once you think an event has occurred which may give rise to a grievance contact your steward or union representative. This individual will give you a "grievance/issue investigation form" that will require the following information:

  • Who is involved?
  • What happened?
  • Where did the incident occur?
  • Why it is a grievance?
  • How should the issue be resolved?

How Do I Write a Grievance?

One of the first steps to have a grievance process is to raise the issue verbally to a line supervisor. This allows the opportunity for the grievance to be resolved informally at the lowest possible level. Most issues can be resolved without putting them in writing. Instead, there are employee assistance programs, mediation via neutral third party, and problem-solving techniques via union officials.

Other agreements do not permit employees to file a grievance without assistance and approval of the union. If you want to file a grievance, there is safety in numbers. Discretely reach out to your coworkers if they have similar complaints. You can consult a lawyer to find a precedent to support your case. Have a compromise prepared because there may be push back.

In the case of unions, a normal grievance procedure is kicked off when an employee presents an issue to his immediate supervisor. The supervisor then has a certain amount of time to respond or escalate the grievance to the head of the department or another superior.

If that does not resolve the issue, the grievance will continue to go up the chain of command until eventually, it may reach the president of the local union. If the proper procedures are not followed at any juncture, the contract in place usually says that the union must drop the grievance. In some cases, a mediator may step in to help further alleviate the problem. This may be done to help the parties resolve the issue before having a formal arbitration.

Can I File a Grievance Against a Coworker?

No, since the agreement is between management and the union and not between individual employees. If an employee violates the contract, like working overtime without getting paid, the grievance is against the employer. Or, if an employee sexually harasses a coworker, the complaint is against the employer for failing to protect the employee from sexual harassmentFiling a grievance is not appropriate if an employee is taking too much time off or slacking at work since this is not a violation of the contract. An employee may not file a grievance against his or her supervisor if they think they are unprofessional or incompetent. Only if they manage poorly by violating a contract provision can you file a contract violation grievance.

Limitations of Grievances

If grievance procedures are effective, they will help management identify and remedy problems within an organization before they grow into larger problems. In some cases, the settling of grievances becomes a sort of scorecard that reinforces an "us versus them" mentality between labor and management. It is vital that a company's grievance procedures include steps to prevent a backlash against those who choose to use them.

A grievance is a formal complaint lodged by an employee against his or her employer. Other conflicts can be resolved without the use of a formal grievance, but if this is not the case, the employee will need to state the facts of the incident that led to them filing a grievance. When working with the union, the steps are well defined and must be handled within prescribed time limits.

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