A “personal grievance” is one of the main avenues for employees to take legal action against their employer if they believe their employer has acted unfairly or unreasonably towards them. It is a legal claim that an employer has breached their legal obligations in the employment relationship.
A personal grievance can be raised by an employee on their own or with a representative. It is a fundamental tool for employees and employers to address employment relationship problems.
What are the grounds for a personal grievance?
The grounds to bring a personal grievance claim are found in the Employment Relations Act 2000. The most common grounds are:
- unjustified dismissal – if an employee believes they have had their employment unfairly terminated (this includes an unjustified constructive dismissal where an employee felt that they had no choice but to resign);
- unjustified disadvantage – if the employer has done, or failed to do something unreasonably or unfairly and this has negatively affected the employee’s employment conditions;
- breaches of the employment agreement, particularly around pay, hours and shifts, a breach of rights around agreed hours, availability clauses, cancellation of shifts, or restrictions on other (“secondary”) employment;
- failure to provide a safe work environment; and
- breach of good faith obligations.
In addition, an employee can raise a personal grievance claim on grounds of discrimination, harassment and duress in the workplace.
When can an employee raise a personal grievance?
An employee can raise a person grievance during their employment or after their employment ends.
An employee must raise a personal grievance with their employer within 90 days of when the action giving rise to the personal grievance occurred, or first came to the employee’s attention (whichever is the later).
For example, if a particular incident occurs, the employee has 90 days from that date to include the incident in their personal grievance claim.
After the 90-day period, the employee may raise the grievance only if the employer agrees. If the employer does not agree, the employee may seek leave (special permission) from the Employment Relations Authority to raise the personal grievance out of time if there was a delay for exceptional circumstances.
What should you do as an employer if an employee has raised a personal grievance?
Sometimes personal grievances may come as a surprise. Other times, there are small incidents frequently, making the personal grievance more predictable.
When you receive a personal grievance:
- Seek legal advice as soon as possible and, wherever possible, before responding so that you are aware of the legal risk associated with the grievance, and have access to legal representation and support should you require it.
- Remember that your obligations of good faith, and obligations under policy and the employee’s employment agreement still apply!
Even if you dispute the basis for the personal grievance, you have an obligation to work to resolve the grievance.
The process of resolving a personal grievance varies from matter to matter. Employees and employers may resolve the grievance between themselves, or they may require assistance from legal representatives, a trained mediator or the Employment Relations Authority or Employment Court.
The team at Black Door Law are experienced in the resolution of personal grievance claims. Get in touch if you require assistance in this space.