Personal grievances: A brief overview

A personal grievance (“PG”) is a type of formal complaint by an employee against their current or former employer if they believe their employer has acted unfairly or unreasonably towards them. Personal grievances can be raised if a matter has not been able to be resolved by the employee communicating directly with the employer and is raised in accordance with the Employment Relations Act 2000. Employees have 90 days to raise a PG from when the first grievance occurred or came to the employee’s attention.

A PG can be raised against an employer for a number of reasons, including but not limited to the following:
• Unjustified dismissal where an employee has been fired or made redundant without the employer following the correct process.
• Discrimination where the employee feels they are being treated unfairly due to factors such as age, gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
• Racial or sexual harassment including unwelcome requests or suggestive comments.

A comprehensive list of potential reasons why a PG can be raised is detailed in Section 103 of the Employment Relations Act 2000.

In addition to raising a complaint against an employer, employees can also raise a complaint against a “controlling third party”, where they work in a triangular employment situation. This situation is where someone is employed by one employer but is working under another business or organisation that is in charge of what they do during the course of their day-to-day work life, such as recruitment, labour hire or temping.

In order to raise a personal grievance, employees should first talk to their employer in an attempt to resolve matters. If discussions have not resolved matters, a formal written email or letter to advise of a PG and requesting a meeting, is the next step. The written email or letter must clearly explain what grounds the PG is being raised on and why the employee believes they are being unfairly treated. Once the employer is notified of the PG, they should attempt to resolve the issue either with the employee or by setting up a mediation. If a mediation is required, Employment Mediation Services offers free mediation services in the workplace and a lawyer is not required for this process.

Following on from mediation, if the issue is still unresolved, an employee can make a PG with the Employment Relations Authority (“ERA”). The ERA is an independent organisation that is the step below the Employment Court. The ERA process is more formal than mediation but less formal than the Employment Court, and it is their role to assist with resolving employment matters by looking at the facts and making a decision based on its merits.

If an employee is aggrieved by the decision of the ERA and matters are still unresolved, they can consult a lawyer who will look into how the process was conducted and advise whether there are grounds to take the case to the Employment Court. In any case, if an employee is having problems at work, the first step is to have open and honest discussions with their employer to express their concerns in the hopes these issues can be resolved quickly and efficiently without the need for external intervention.

If you would like to discuss the points outlined in this article further, please reach out to Morgan Duckworth or Edward Bostock who will be happy to provide you with employment law advice.