Grievance Policies

The idea that your employees might have a complaint about their work is either laughably obvious or unpleasant to think about. Either way, it can help to have a grievance policy written down so employees know when it is appropriate to involve the boss, and what kind of information will be needed in the process.

Generally grievance policies list the steps to be taken, which usually means who to talk to about the problem. It is always good to include two levels of who to talk to, if possible; it allows employee to feel heard and adds perspective to the business response, which might avoid a wrongful discharge. Remember that the supervisor/first-level person might be (part of) the problem and allow for a way around them. You can allow for hearing by “an impartial person” appointed by a board, which can be especially helpful for nonprofits where the board members may not feel competent to investigate a grievance.

You might want to consider requiring certain information in a written grievance, especially for termination or if you have a staff unusually prone to complaining. Your policy could require a written complaint including some or all of the following:

  • What is being grieved?
  • What policy or law does the employee feels has been violated by the termination? (Termination only)
  • Factual evidence
  • Witnesses
  • Desired remedy

You can list the requirements and allow employees to write their own documents, or you can develop a form for them to fill out. In Montana, failure to use the required form is failure to exhaust and, for termination cases, this offers the employer some protection in court.

Be careful about being too specific about required actions by the employer. Commit to what you know you can do every time, not the ideal; allow yourself some wiggle room to accommodate life and business crises. Don’t commit to Investigation; it may or may not be needed. Don’t commit to specific actions, including who will be informed of the results. Don’t open it up to more problems. Don’t be legalistic; avoid awkwardness like “The Council will delegate information to the Personnel Committee to hold a conference to further investigate the grievance.” Keep it simple; you can always add complications on a case-by-case basis.

And of course, review your policy regularly. Is it working? Do the levels of appeal still make sense? Have the laws changed? Have you found a better example? No document is perfect, but it is still a good idea to try for up-to-date.