Grievance Procedures Article

Grievance Procedures


The grievance procedure provides a way for presenting and settling workplace disputes. It defines the type of grievance it covers; the stages through which the parties proceed in attempting to resolve matters; individuals responsible at each stage; the documentation required; and the time limits by which the grievance must be presented and dealt with at each stage. The best-known application of a grievance procedure is as a formal process outlined in labour union contracts.

A grievance is intended to allow the employer to hear and resolve complaints in a timely and cost-effective manner. Employees should not be afraid to file a grievance. Having a formal procedure in place often encourages employees to raise concerns or question policies before major problems develop. The procedure also makes managers less likely to ignore problems, because they know that upper management may become involved through the grievance process. Grievance procedures help protect employees against arbitrary decisions of management regarding discipline, discharge, promotions, or benefits. They also provide labour unions and employers with a formal process for enforcing the provisions of their contracts.

Although having grievance procedures in place is important, employers must support their written policies with consistent actions if they hope to maintain good employee relations. To make a grievance procedure work, all parties must approach it with the attitude that it serves their mutual interests. Ideally, an effective grievance procedure helps management discover and correct problems within an operation before they cause serious trouble. It can provide a way in which employees can communicate their concerns to upper management.

In some cases, the settling of grievances becomes a sort of scorecard that reinforces an “us versus them” mentality between labour and management. In other cases, employees are hesitant to use the grievance process out of fear of recrimination. Some studies have shown that employees who raise grievances tend to have lower performance evaluations, promotion rates, and work attendance afterwards. This suggests that some employers may retaliate against employees who raise complaints. It is vital that a company’s grievance procedure include steps to prevent a backlash against those who choose to use them.


In a union environment, a typical grievance begins with a shop steward presenting an employee’s problem to his or her immediate supervisor within a certain time period after the offending event has occurred. The supervisor then has a set amount of time to either respond or send the grievance on to be addressed by the manager of the division.

If the situation is still not resolved, the grievance continues up the chain of command to the director of the department and a vice-president of the local; then on to the Chief Administrative Officer and the President of the local. If the labour union fails to follow the procedures at any point, the contract usually specifies that it must drop the grievance. Conversely, the employer is also obligated to resolve the grievance in the employee’s favour if management fails to follow the procedures outlined in the collective bargaining agreement.

If the situation still cannot be resolved, the final step in the grievance process is for both parties to present their side to a pre-designated arbitrator. The arbitrator’s role is to determine the rights of both parties under the labour agreement, and his or her decision is usually final.

Adapted from the Inc. definition of Grievance Procedures by Connie Niblock, Shop Steward, Engineering Dept.