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What are the steps typically found in a grievance procedure?

A grievance is generally defined as a claim by an employee that he or she is adversely affected by the misinterpretation or misapplication of a written company policy or collectively bargained agreement. To address grievances, employers typically implement a grievance procedure. The grievance procedure may also be part of a collective bargaining agreement.

A grievance procedure is a means of internal dispute resolution by which an employee may have his or her grievances addressed. Most collective bargaining agreements include procedures for filing and resolving grievances. Within a union environment, the processes will typically involve the employee, union representatives and members of the employer’s management team.

Grievance processes may differ somewhat from employer to employer and under various collective bargaining agreements. However, most will have certain general processes in common.

Grievances are brought to the employee’s immediate supervisor. This may be either an informal process or the beginning of the formal process. Generally, there will be a requirement that the grievance be submitted in writing using a grievance form. Usually, the supervisor and the union representative will review the grievance to determine whether it is valid. Also, most grievance procedures will require that the submission occur within a specified timeframe following the event or incident.

Three possible outcomes may occur at this stage of the process:

  • The supervisor and the union representative may determine that no valid grievance exists.
  • The grievance may be resolved.
  • The grievance may not be resolved to the employee’s satisfaction, and it will move forward to the next step in the process.

The next step typically involves the next level of supervisor in the company hierarchy. In most union environments, the employee will be represented by the union and is not present in the review process. A failure to resolve the grievance will lead to the next step in the grievance process.

The third step in the process will lead to a review by a higher level of company management and potentially a higher-level union representative. Ultimately, the grievance may reach the highest levels as set forth by the contract.

If the grievance remains unresolved through the highest levels of management within the company, many procedures include a provision by which an outside arbitrator may be called in to resolve the issue. Senior leaders from both sides are typically involved in the arbitration process.

An effective grievance procedure provides employees with a mechanism to resolve issues of concern. The grievance procedure may also help employers correct issues before they become serious issues or result in litigation.


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