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Dealing with problems at work

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If you believe that you are being treated unfairly at work, for example you think you are being discriminated against by your employer or you don’t have appropriate working conditions, speak to a trade union representative. Together, you should try to raise the matter informally either with your line manager, or a more senior manager if that is not possible. 

But if that does not work, or is not appropriate, you should follow your employer’s formal grievance procedure. This may involve writing to your employer explaining what makes you think you are being treated unfairly and your employer should organise a meeting to discuss your grievance. You have the right to be accompanied by a trade union official at the meeting.

If you are not satisfied with the outcome you may wish to ask for an appeal meeting. Again, you have the right to be accompanied by a trade union official. If a worker’s chosen companion will not be available at the time proposed for the hearing by the employer, the employer must postpone the hearing to a time proposed by the worker provided that the alternative time is both reasonable and not more than five working days after the date originally proposed.

Note: Many employers do not allow workers or self-employed workers to use grievance procedures. Talk to a trade union official for advice. 

Disciplinary actionDisciplinary action 

If you are an employee and your employer decides to take disciplinary action against you, you should seek advice from a trade union official on your case and consult the disciplinary procedure in your contract.

As a minimum, a disciplinary procedure should work as follows:

  • Your employer should carry out an investigation if they suspect that you are underperforming or you have acted improperly to see if there is a case against you. Your employer may ask you to attend an investigatory meeting. While you don’t have the right to be accompanied to an investigatory meeting, you should ask anyway as a good employer should allow it.
  • Your employer should then formally notify you in writing if they think there is a case against you. Your employer should invite you to a meeting, tell you that you have the right to be accompanied by a trade union official, and send you the evidence that they intend to use against you.
  • Your employer should then hold a face-to-face meeting with you to discuss the matter. You have the right to be accompanied at this meeting, and you should inform your employer that you wish to be accompanied. After the meeting your employer should inform you of their decision and of your right to appeal against the decision. 

If you have been an employee for at least two years, your employer can only lawfully dismiss you if they can show that it was because of your ability to do your job. It is unlawful to be dismissed on the grounds of:

  • trade union membership or activities
  • health and safety
  • exercising your employment rights
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • discrimination.

Your employer must follow a fair procedure for dismissal. If they fail to do so, you may bring a claim against your employer for unfair dismissal. Talk to a trade union official for further advice.

Discrimination and Harassment at workDiscrimination and harassment at work​

If you believe you are being bullied, harassed or discriminated against at work you should contact a trade union.

You have the right not to be discriminated against because of your race, gender, nationality, religion or belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy, maternity, age, or disability (known as the ‘protected characteristics’). You should also speak to a union if you believe you are being discriminated against because of your immigration status.

If you are disabled, you are entitled to extra support. An employer has a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to things like premises, equipment and working hours so that you are not put at a disadvantage when compared to non-disabled workers. This duty only applies if the employer knows you are disabled.

It is also unlawful to discriminate against you if you are on a fixed-term contract or you are a part-time worker.

Discrimination may include being paid less or being given worse terms and conditions than other workers or not being given a particular job.

If someone at work behaves towards you in a way that you don’t want, and their behaviour is hostile, intimidating, humiliating or offensive, including unwanted sexual attention, this is known as ‘harassment’. Harassment is unlawful if it relates to any of the protected characteristics.

It is also unlawful to victimise you for raising a complaint about discrimination or for helping a co-worker with a complaint.

You should write down all incidents of bullying, harassment or discrimination and keep any other related evidence, as you will need this if you have to make a formal complaint. A trade union can advise you how to make a formal complaint.

Disciplinary actionTaking a case to an employment tribunal 

If you have a problem at work, a trade union should be able to help resolve it. They may also help you take your case to an employment tribunal. Employment tribunals are a special kind of court that deal with employment issues. If the court finds in your favour, it might tell your employer to pay you compensation.

It is essential to get advice on taking a case to the tribunal from your trade union or from the ACAS helpline on 0300 123 1100. You must notify ACAS before you can take a case to the employment tribunal. ’ They will offer a free ‘Early Conciliation’ service to advise you.

Most claims must be made within three calendar months of the issue taking place.

Understanding grievances and disciplinariesFurther information (English version only)

Download Understanding grievances and disciplinaries (PDF)

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