A grievance, in ordinary language, refers to a complaint, concern or any form of workplace discontentment or dissatisfaction that an employee may have with his employer, manager or fellow employee that needs to be addressed by the management of a company.


The grievance procedure is a relatively straightforward process that every company should have in place and endeavour to follow. The process may differ slightly in different places of work, but the general idea of informal methods first then formal methods later holds.


The common issues that may lead to grievances include work relations and environment, equal opportunities, breach of the terms and conditions of the employment contract, health and safety and other work-related issues that affect the employee and needs to be addressed and as far as reasonably possible, resolved by the employer.


It is important to note that this process does not deal with issues related to compensation, unfair labour practices, demands for other benefits or as an appeal mechanism following a disciplinary hearing.


Employees may be discontent about a certain issue or have a complaint at the workplace. Unfortunately, there is no stipulated South African Labour law on dealing with grievances. However, there are guidelines, and it is important to resolve the issues as quickly and as amicably as possible.


The first step is to bring the grievance informally to your immediate supervisors, who have a certain amount of time to resolve the issue.  There is no need to escalate issues to higher authorities without trying to resolve them at the applicable level fist.


If the immediate supervisor cannot resolve the matter, the employee may take the complaint informally to someone above, such as a line manager. This can also be done formally by filing a grievance form, and the issue should be addressed within the applicable time period.


If the issue reaches a standstill, the employee may consider mediation which is quite crucial in most company’s grievance procedures. Mostly companies rely on neutral–external parties to mediate the issue at work in order to ensure impartiality.


If the above fails, the employee may escalate the issue to the HR department. At this stage, all informalities are cast aside, and the first step of the official channels are invoked. The employee must now write a formal grievance letter or complete a proforma grievance form and submit it to the HR department.


Once the complaint is lodged, the HR and Employer have an applicable time period to come up with a resolution with the employee. This time period can be extended if the parties agree to it mutually in writing.


It is important to include a time limit in each of the steps above that the issue is resolved within a reasonable time period.  All parties must, however, stay cognisant of the nature of the grievance and that time periods cannot be seen as a “one size fits all” as certain grievances might require proper investigation and even counselling.


If all of the above procedures fail, the employee can refer his or her dissatisfaction issue to the CCMA under a prerequisite dispute type.


The employee is entitled to be represented throughout the grievance process by a fellow employee, an official from a trade union (if the necessary level of representation is in place) or anyone else who is properly certified.


There are many benefits of a grievance procedure, but all in all, when the correct steps are followed, they promote sound labour relations which are needed to increase productivity at the workplace and ensure employee satisfaction.


Article by: Jacques Du Toit

Dispute Resolution Official – Bethlehem