Dealing with employee grievances on their return to work

Last updated: June 27th, 2022

First published: March 9th, 2022

Last updated: June 27th, 2022

Returning to the workplace after an extended time away affects people differently.

Some will return to work rearing to get back to business. Others may have reservations and be quite anxious. Then there are those who return and immediately begin to disrupt operations. If that happens, what can you do? Do you let the disgruntled employee get away with it once, or twice? Do you change your mind and allow them to work from home? Or do you discipline them in writing or by way of a formal meeting?

These are important questions, questions our expert employment law consultants hear from employers each day. So, to outline grievance meaning and how to reduce employee grievances on their return to work, we put together some useful information below.

What constitutes a grievance?

Firstly, let’s define what a grievance is.

The term ‘grievance’ refers to staff concerns, problems, or complaints. It could have something to do with working conditions or the treatment of a particular employee, who is making the complaint, by another. If that is the case, you may need to go down the disciplinary route and begin grievance procedures…

Steps of the employee grievance procedure in Ireland

Conducting an effective and consistent grievance process at work will help resolve employee grievances and ensure you avoid any mistakes that could affect both employees. If you don’t currently have a company grievance policy in place, you can refer to the Workplace Relations Commission’s Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures for guidance. Please note that the Code of Practice sets out general guidelines only.

When it comes to carrying out the procedure, try to do it informally, if possible, at first. This removes the need for a more drawn-out formal procedure that demands a lot of attention.

Of course, some complaints aren’t easily resolved by informal means. If that happens, you’ll need to begin formal grievance procedures that require an investigation. An impartial third party must carry this out to ensure there can be no allegations of bias.

Both the employee raising a grievance and any other involved employees have certain rights/entitlements during the grievance process. To that end, a fair grievance procedure should include:

  • The fair examination and processing of the employee’s grievance.
  • The gathering and examination of details related to the allegation or complaint.
  • The opportunity for the employees involved to respond to any such allegation or complaint.
  • The opportunity for the employees involved to avail of the right to representation during the procedure.
  • The explaining and establishment of the right to a fair and impartial determination of the issues concerned.

You may have to notify the employees involved that they’re entitled to have a colleague or union official represent them during the grievance procedure.

The grievance appeal process

If an employee isn’t happy with the outcome of the procedure, notify them of how to appeal a grievance decision. This can be done through a grievance appeal letter.

Arrange for the grievance appeal hearing to be held as soon as possible. Ideally, a senior manager or third party should hear the appeal to demonstrate impartiality.

Make mediation an option

Some grievances between colleagues can prove difficult to resolve. If so, seek external assistance. An external independent mediator can help at any stage in the grievance procedure.

If both parties agree to enter a mediation process, it will allow you to suspend the grievance procedure.

Need a HR consultants help handling employee grievances?

For advice on handling grievances, speak to one of our expert HR consultants now on 01 886 0350.

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Nora Cashe


Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

Nora has extensive experience representing clients at Employment Tribunal hearings, Conciliation / Mediation meetings before both the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. 

Nóra is a member of the Irish Employment Law Association and engages with the WRC Adjudication Service as part of their stakeholder engagement forum.

Deiric McCann

Genos International Europe

Deiric McCann leads Genos International Europe – The EU division of a world-leading provider of emotional intelligence solutions. 

With over two decades experience at the highest levels of management, Deiric supports clients to develop the resilience, emotional intelligence, psychological safety and engagements of their employees.

Rhiannon Coyne

Graphite HRM

Rhiannon Coyne is a Senior HR Consultant at Graphite HRM and will be providing an overview of best practice on how to deal with complaints of bullying and harassment in the workplace. 

With a number of recent updates to employment laws, Rhiannon will take a closer look at employment equality and how it is interlinked to Health & Safety and what employers can learn from recent case laws.

David Begg

Workplace Relations Commission

David Begg was appointed Chairperson of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in January 2021.

David is also a professor at Maynooth University Institute of Social Sciences. Mr Begg’s extensive history in the trade union movement included leading the ESB Officers Association and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, stepping away from the latter in 2001 to chair international aid agency Concern.

David Begg was also previously a director of the Central Bank of Ireland between 1995 and 2010.