What can employees do when they are dissatisfied with the terms or conditions of their employment? Learn about the definition and types of employee grievances, and take a quiz to test your knowledge.


Have you ever worked for an employer who you believed did not meet the terms of your employment contract? Perhaps you were not fully compensated for your work or you experienced unsafe work conditions. In this situation, you may wish to file a formal complaint against your employer. This is known as an employee grievance.

Whether the grievance is valid or not, it can have a negative effect on employee morale, productivity, and retention. Organizations must, therefore, have policies and procedures in place to address employee grievances. This is an important human resource management function.

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Types of Grievances

Let’s first look at some of the most common types of employee and workplace grievances. Keep in mind that a grievance can be real or imaginary, and employees file grievances for a range of issues that can be minor or major.

Pay and Benefits: This is the most common area of employee complaints and grievances. These grievances may involve the amount and qualifications for pay increases, pay equity for comparable work within the organization, and the cost and coverage of benefit programs.

Workloads: Heavy workloads are a common employee and workplace grievance. If you work for a company that is going through lean times, you may have been asked to take on more work without a pay increase. Perhaps your employer decides not to fill a vacant position and instead assigns additional work to you and your colleagues. Such situations lead to employee frustration and dissatisfaction.

Work Conditions: A safe and clean work environment is crucial to employee satisfaction and motivation. Extensive state and federal regulations protect worker health and safety. Employees who believe a company is not following applicable regulations and guidelines may decide to file a grievance.

Union and Management Relations: When unions represent employees, both the union and management must avoid unfair labor practices. These illegal acts involve threatening or coercive behavior by either party designed to obtain an employee’s loyalty or cooperation. The National Labor Relations Act specifies unlawful activities for employers and unions. For example, employers cannot threaten employees with termination if they vote for a union. Employees may file grievances when they experience unfair labor practices.

Grievance Resolution

Businesses need effective policies and procedures to resolve the different types of employee grievances. Some employees will use grievance procedures just to express frustration, while others will file a grievance to influence future contract negotiations or protest unlawful practices. In all cases, managers should strive for the most effective possible resolution that will satisfy both parties.

The grievance resolution process usually begins with a meeting between the employee and manager. At this stage, it is important for managers to:

  • Listen carefully
  • Acknowledge the grievance
  • Gather facts
  • Keep an open mind
  • Investigate the cause of the grievance
  • Take appropriate action

If the grievance is not resolved at this stage, the process will escalate to higher levels of management. If there is no resolution at the managerial level, the parties may turn to arbitration. Arbitration is a process where a neutral outside party hears both sides of a dispute and then makes a decision.

The best grievance management policy is one that prevents employee and workplace grievances in the first place. Managers who have open doors and listen and respond to their employees will help maintain a motivated and productive workforce. When grievances do arise, managers must take appropriate steps to identify and address workplace concerns.

Lesson Summary

When an employee is not satisfied with the terms of his or her employment, he or she can file a grievance. Common grievances are filed regarding issues of pay and compensation, workload, work conditions, and union and management relations. During a grievance resolution process, an employee meets with a manager or managers to try to find an equitable solution. If this fails, an impartial arbitrator may be employed. In these cases, the arbitrator makes the final decision. The best way to handle employee grievances, however, is for a company to take measures to avoid them in the first place. This means that companies should provide fair pay for fair work and negotiate with employees in good faith. Managers should listen and respond to employees in positive ways and help maintain a positive workforce.

Workplace Grievances: Quick Guide

Workplace grievance
  • Employee grievance: a formal complaint filed against an employer that can have negative effects on morale, productivity, and retention
    • Pay & benefits: most common area of employee complaints and grievances
    • Workloads: heavy workloads are a common employee grievance
    • Work conditions: safe and clean work environment crucial to employee satisfaction
  • Union and management relations: unions represent employees
    • Unfair labor practices: illegal acts involving threats or coercive behavior to obtain an employee’s loyalty or cooperation
    • The National Labor Relations Act: specifies unlawful activities for employers and unions
  • Grievance resolution process: listen carefully, acknowledge the grievance, gather facts, keep an open mind, investigate the cause of the grievance and take appropriate action
    • Human resource management: company organization in charge of policies and procedures to address employee grievances
    • Arbitration: a process where a neutral outside party hears both sides of a dispute and then makes a decision

Learning Outcomes

As you complete this lesson, you can:

  • Define employee/workplace grievance
  • Outline the types of employee grievances
  • Discuss the employee grievance resolution process
  • List some of the common grievance resolution strategies