There are times when actions in the workplace mean it's time to file a grievance. How to do so depends entirely on your job. For union members and larger companies, there is nearly always a set route for filing a grievance, but smaller companies may not have a written policy in place. Either way, there are elements of filing a grievance that are practical, though not required by law, regardless of what policy dictates.

What Is a Grievance Procedure?

First, it helps to understand the grievance definition. When an employee has issues with the workplace, colleagues or superiors, this is a grievance. It can be frustration with overtime hours, perceived favoritism or even more serious complaints like fraud, unsafe conditions and sexual harassment.

Whatever the complaint, the method for lodging the grievance depends on a number of factors.

Considerations for Filing a Grievance

Remember, there is strength in numbers. It may be wise to quietly, discreetly discuss your concerns with colleagues. Do others have the same issues? Banding together can increase the odds of success.

Keep the timeline in mind. For union jobs and government employee grievances, there may be timelines stipulated in the workplace policies that act like a statute of limitations. Meaning, wait too long and you may lose your right to petition for resolution. In many regions, this period is 90 days.

Documentation is helpful. If you have correspondence or other items that can bolster the credibility of your complaint, these are wise to have at your ready. Refer to company newsletters, superiors’ emails, lunch room bulletins and even your contract to establish a basis for your complaints.

Filing the Grievance

It’s not legally required to file a written grievance, but it’s extremely wise to do so. This way, you’ll have your claims laid out logically, you can avoid getting emotional or flustered in conversation and you can include your documentation and other facts.

If you belong to a union, consult with union representatives for advice on how to proceed. They may have information about related cases or precedence that can help your efforts.

When filing, if the complaint is against your immediate supervisor, it is often best to take the problem to the next person in the chain of command. You may be asked to prove that you have tried to resolve the issue with the supervisor before taking this step, but in cases of things like sexual harassment or racism, it’s likely best to escalate the matter up the chain immediately.

And Then What?

Filing a grievance doesn’t mean you’ll find resolution. This is why it’s important to be sure it’s a move you can live with.

For more serious complaints, inaction from the company may be time to consult a lawyer. For less serious ones, it’ll be time to decide if you want to keep working at your job or look elsewhere.

When Shouldn’t a Grievance Be Filed?

Filing a grievance is a big deal. It sets into motion things that can’t be unsaid or undone. Frivolous grievances can cost you respect, opportunities and good will in the workplace.

If, for instance, you have conflicts with a co-worker, it can affect your day-to-day experience on the job, but there’s no law about needing to be friendly to colleagues. Filing a grievance could make matters worse. But if a colleague is bullying you, stealing your work product to claim as his own or sexually harassing you, that’s another matter.

Similarly, filing a grievance to get back at an employer because you dislike her is irresponsible and unwise.

Finally, disliking a policy or a task is not grounds for a grievance. Work is supposed to be work – you won’t always enjoy it. Not enjoying a task is never grounds for a complaint on its own.