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New grievance and disciplinary procedures that come into force today (Friday) are so complicated that employees who have been treated badly at work will be denied access to justice, says the TUC.

date: 30 September 2004

embargo: 00.01hrs Friday 1 October 2004

Attention: industrial and legal correspondents, union journals

New grievance and disciplinary procedures that come into force today (Friday) are so complicated that employees who have been treated badly at work will be denied access to justice, says the TUC.

From today all employers, regardless of how many people they employ, must have minimum grievance and disciplinary procedures in place setting out what managers and staff should do when things go wrong at work.

The TUC is concerned that whilst the new procedures will be well publicised and help will be forthcoming to employees in unionised workplaces, in factories, shops and offices where there is no union presence, employees will struggle to get their heads around the new regulations.

Anyone not understanding the new procedures and failing to act in accordance with them, may not be able to get their workplace problem dealt with by a tribunal.

Commenting on the new procedures, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'Unions have always led the way in resolving disputes and grievances within the workplace, only ever resorting to employment tribunals as a last resort. But the new procedures are too complicated, and are more likely to create confusion than solve workplace problems.

‘‘Now more than ever before, trade union membership is the best safeguard to stop employees losing out under the new procedures. Employees in non-unionised workplaces don’t have access to expert advice from trained union reps so will struggle to understand the new rules. Where there are no unions to help, staff are likely to be deterred from taking cases, so will find themselves missing out on justice at work.'

The aim of the new statutory procedures was to reduce tribunals’ workloads, but the TUC is concerned that inadvertently the new laws could have the opposite effect, resulting in protracted hearings and complex legal arguments on whether the procedures have been followed. Unconvinced that the new procedures are a step forward, the TUC aims to keep the Government to its commitment of reviewing the legislation in two years time.


The new minimum grievance and disciplinary and dismissal procedures that come into force today involve three basic steps:

  • the employee must put their grievance in writing and send it to the employer, or the employer must write to the employee stating why they are considering disciplinary action;
  • a meeting must take place between the employer and employee, at which the employee can be accompanied by a union rep or a colleague;
  • the employee can meet again with the employer to appeal their decision on the grievance or disciplinary action. They have the right to be accompanied during the appeal.

Both employers and employees are now legally required to use the new procedures in full, including the appeal stage. Failure to do so will have serious consequences at any employment tribunal. For example:

  • Where an employee fails to write to their employer about a grievance and wait 28 days for a response, an employment tribunal will reject their claim without a hearing;
  • Employees’ compensation awards will be cut by between 10 and 50 per cent where a tribunal finds they were responsible for not using the procedures in full, regardless of the merit of their claim against the employer;
  • Where a tribunal finds an employer was responsible for not using or completing the procedure, compensation awarded to an employee will be increased by 10 to 50 per cent and in unfair dismissal cases the tribunal will find the dismissal was automatically unfair.

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