Grievance Policy

Grievance Handling Policy

A grievance policy explains the process and procedure followed by a business or organisation to resolve grievances or complaints against an employee. A grievance handling policy ought to outline the standard procedures for expeditiously resolving complaints and set out the rights and responsibilities of employees at every level.

Grievance Handling Policy

Anderson Legal provides advice to employers and employees in Australia about grievance handling policies.


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Grievance Handling Policy

Anderson Legal provides advice to employers and employees in Australia about grievance handling policies.

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View our growing library of articles and webinars, which are accessible no matter the time of day or night.

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To understand whether this firm can assist you, Anderson Legal provides a free, no-obligation initial consultation.

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Grievance Handling Policy

A grievance policy will outline the procedures and guidelines that an employer and its employees may be expected to follow if a complaint or grievance arises.
A grievance policy forms an important part of an overall approach to disciplinary processes within a business.
This section deals with the following:

Grievance Handling Policy

A grievance policy will outline the procedures and guidelines that an employer and its employees may be expected to follow if a complaint or grievance arises.
A grievance policy forms an important part of an overall approach to disciplinary processes within a business.

Grievance Policy Essentials

Beyond the obligation of businesses and organisations to provide safe workplaces to all employees, there are financial reasons to implement grievance and complaint policies. A Harvard Business School study in 2015 entitled ‘Toxic Workers’ showed that employees who demonstrate incivility and other toxic behaviours towards their co-workers have an outsized impact on a team, even above that of a ‘star’ performer. The study shows that an employee with conduct or capacity issues may have, on average, a greater negative financial impact than the positive impact of a ‘star’ employee. The bottom line is there is good business sense in efficiently addressing complaints and grievances amongst employees.

An effective grievance policy allows a business to clearly define the rights and responsibilities of employees to raise issues in the workplace that may affect their safety and wellbeing or productivity. It sets a tone for workplace culture, which can help to minimise the reputation and financial risks associated with ineffective or inapt complaints handling processes.

The absence of a grievance policy does not prevent employees from raising complaints or grievances. However, without guidance from the business or organisation, managers and workers may respond to situations differently. In some cases, the absence of a grievance policy or its implementation may heighten the risk of an employer being found vicariously liable for harm caused in the workplace.

Anderson Legal has the expertise to advise businesses, executives and employees on their rights and obligations with respect to grievances in the workplace. It has the capacity to assist businesses to draft grievance policies that are adapted to the specific needs of the workplace.

While there are many possible formulations of a complaint or grievance handling policy, a grievance policy may generally:

  1. Set out the scope of the policy
  2. Reference relevant laws / policies
  3. Define the relevant terms
  4. Explain the overarching principles
  5. Outline the grievance procedures
  6. Address compliance expectations

1. Set out the scope of the policy

The scope of a grievance or complaint policy may seem obvious, but it is important for businesses and organisations to identify who may be subject to the policy and the types of issues covered. So the scope may be directed at defining two issues. First, who the policy covers. Second, what actions or decisions may be covered by the grievance policy.

Depending on the business or organisation, a grievance policy may cover a range of people, including:

  • employees;
  • contractors and sub-contractors;
  • volunteers;
  • interns; and,
  • work experience students.

The scope of who is covered by the grievance policy will also affect the types of actions or decisions that may be the subject of a workplace complaint or grievance. For example, a contractor may not have a contract of employment but can still be subjected to bullying or sexual harassment. It may also be prudent for a policy to explicitly ‘scope out’ certain actions or decisions, such as the decision by the business or organisation to terminate a contract or dismiss an employee. The fact that something is excluded from the policy does not, of course, prevent the issue from being disputed in some other way by an aggrieved contractor or former employee (such as by bringing a breach of contract or unfair dismissal claim).

2. Reference relevant laws / policies

An appropriately drafted grievance policy is one of the ways a workplace can ensure risks to employee health and safety are minimised. For this reason, a workplace grievance or complaints policy may refer to a number of laws or internal policies that are relevant to interpreting or understanding its intent.

For example, reference may be made to specific anti-discrimination laws, or work health and safety laws, or the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). A business may have a code of conduct for employees, as well as policies relating to bullying, harassment, and disciplinary processes. Reference to laws and other policies may assist people to better understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to complaints and grievances, including with respect to the specific grievance policy.

3. Define the relevant terms

Although the meaning of words like ‘grievance’ or ‘complaint’ may seem obvious, experience shows that people will have different views in practice. For that reason there may be good reason to define key terms to minimise inconsistencies. For example, can a complaint be raised verbally or does it have to be in writing? Can a grievance be about an act that occurred just once, or does it have to be a course of conduct? Defining important words in clear, plain language help employees to understand their rights and obligations.

4. Explain the overarching principles

The overarching principles may give some high-level guidance to people dealing with a grievance. These principles may set out aims and priorities, expectations and prohibitions.

The aims of a grievance policy may be clear enough, but succinctly setting out the purpose behind the policy can help set expectations. For instance, quick resolutions may be an aim, just as it may be that employees resolve issues between themselves where possible.

Priorities are different to aims. They may spell out that the health and safety of workers is paramount, meaning complaints and grievances should be raised in a way compatible with that priority. There may be a number of competing priorities and how they are reconciled may be addressed, even broadly, by the grievance policy.

Expectations may focus employees on particular things that may assist them and the resolution of a complaint. For example, keeping records and reporting issues as early as practicable may set expectations for employees. The maintenance of confidentiality in certain circumstances may also form part of a grievance policy. The level of detail in a complaint or cooperation expected are other examples of expectations that may be outlined.

Prohibitions may also be important. False, frivolous or vexatious complaints may be actively discouraged in principle by being specifically prohibited in a grievance policy. By including it in the grievance policy, an employee who raises a false, frivolous or vexatious complaint may clearly understand they could face a disciplinary process for such conduct.

Guiding principles assist people to understand the issues they ought to be bearing in mind when considering airing a grievance or making a complaint. Well-written and considered principles can provide a framework that enhances, rather than detracts from, effective resolution of grievances in a workplace.

5. Outline the grievance procedures

The purpose of setting out grievance procedures is to step people through the process of raising a grievance or making a complaint. It is common for a procedure to encourage, in the first instance, informal, direct communication between the person with the grievance and any other person involved (ie, respondent). Informal, direct dealings are not always appropriate, which means people must know what alternative options there may be to address their grievances.

It is common for procedures to encourage issues to be dealt with close to the source, rather than be funnelled up to a chief executive officer. How grievances and complaints are raised, and what occurs after they are, may also be set out in the procedure. This may include procedures for how and when a complaint may be escalated through a business or organisation.

Procedures in a grievance policy ought to be flexible enough to meet the needs of procedural fairness or natural justice in every case. This may extend to how, when and under what circumstances people impacted by a grievance may learn of the outcome, and what the possible outcomes may be. Outcomes may include:

  • No action, which may be warranted for trivial or unsubstantiated allegations
  • Negotiated or mediated settlements or agreements
  • Managerial guidance to the worker who is the subject of the grievance
  • Formal investigations, whether by an internal or external workplace investigator
  • Performance improvement plans, for when performance management is appropriate
  • Warnings, which may be verbal or written and form part of the disciplinary record of the employee
  • Termination of employment, which may be with or without notice

Effective procedures that facilitate the expeditious resolution of grievances and complaints, backed by a consistent and fair-minded approach by a business or organisation, may enhance a positive and open culture within a workplace.

6. Address compliance expectations

As a workplace policy that may fit into the broader policies and procedures of a workplace, it can be important to make clear what the consequences are for contraventions of it. The expectations may differ according to whether a person holds managerial responsibilities. There may be some expectations that are set out that apply equally to all individuals, no matter their role or position.

Some laws make it mandatory for individuals to report certain information to law enforcement agencies. A grievance policy may make the expectation clear that notwithstanding anything contained in the policy, people must still make mandatory disclosures as required by law.


Anderson Legal provides comprehensive employment law services to businesses, executives, employees and public sector workers. If you are dealing with an issue involving workplace grievances or complaints and require expert advice or representation, Anderson Legal tailors its services to the needs of every client. This includes:

  • providing advice relating to allegations, grievances, and complaints;
  • advising clients on options relating to disciplinary processes;
  • drafting policy documents, including grievance handling policies;
  • resolving, where appropriate, grievances and complaints through negotiation;
  • representing clients during workplace investigations and disciplinary processes; and,
  • filing, litigating, and defending claims and applications on behalf of our clients.

This firm places an emphasis on providing clear guidance so that our clients are placed in a real position to make informed decisions about their options and the preferred path forward. Anderson Legal provides clear, transparent disclosure of its legal costs at every stage.

Anderson Legal has the expertise and experience to provide comprehensive employment law services to individuals and businesses. If you need an employment lawyer, there are many reasons why Anderson Legal should be your preferred choice:

  • Having successfully represented litigants in the High Court of Australia, Royal Commissions, Fair Work Commission, and multiple other courts dealing with trials and other hearings, Andrew Anderson, Legal Director, has a demonstrated record of success in complex and difficult cases.
  • Andrew Anderson has been independently described by the Courier Mail as “one of the best legal minds” and a “leading corporate and white-collar crime lawyer” (16 December 2021). He is an experienced lawyer who is passionate about resolving employment law issues in the interests of his clients.
  • Prior to operating a law firm, Andrew Anderson worked as a Principal Crown Prosecutor in Queensland and barrister in private practice at 8 Petrie Terrace Chambers in Brisbane. His depth of courtroom advocacy experience ranges from straightforward cases right through to complex trials and appeals.
  • Anderson Legal is a law firm that is dedicated to the best ideals of the legal profession. Seeking to exceed client expectations and fighting for justice is an everyday pursuit.

The potential impact of disciplinary processes on reputations, relationships, and livelihoods makes it essential to have an employment lawyer who is equal to the task. If you are a business operator, executive, employee or public servant who needs advice regarding grievance handling policies within your workplace, contact Anderson Legal.

Limitations on general information

Each legal issue is unique. The information on this page and website cannot – and is not meant to – substitute legal consultation. It is designed to outline information of a general nature for people seeking to learn more about grievance and complaint handling policies, particularly as it relates to employers and employees in Australia. Anybody dealing with an employment law issue ought to obtain expert legal advice and guidance as soon as possible.

No content accessible on the website is created to provide specific legal answers or advice. It is designed to provide general information about legal matters and related concepts. It should not be used as, or in substitute of, your own legal advice or other advice as appropriate.

To the extent allowed by law, no warranty, condition, or guarantee is provided in relation to the accuracy or reliability of any information contained on this site. Content may be changed from time to time without notice.

If you are dealing with an issue related to workplace grievances and need advice and representation, contact Anderson Legal. This firm provides expert advice and representation for people needing assistance to understand their legal rights, obligations, and options.

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