What is the difference between a Disciplinary and Grievance procedure?

What is the difference between a Disciplinary and Grievance procedure?

The difference between a disciplinary and grievance procedure is in the issue they are each addressing. A grievance procedure deals with a complaint, problem or concern from a member of staff with regard to their workplace. On the other hand, a disciplinary procedure addresses employee performance. If a member of staff has failed to carry out their job appropriately and have failed to improve unacceptable behaviour or performance, they can face disciplinary action by their employer. Put simply a grievance generally comes from an employee aimed at their employer, whilst a disciplinary comes from a employer aimed at their employee. 

What is a grievance procedure?

A grievance is a concern, problem or complaint that a member of staff raises. The grievance could be about anything in relation to the workplace. It could be about another member of staff, management, working conditions, workloads. There are no limitations on what a grievance could be about.

Staff should be encouraged to informally discuss grievances with their managers before raising a formal grievance. And this can be done in one to one sessions, team meetings or in general day to day communications. Encouraging staff to be open and honest and comfortable about raising concerns will promote and healthy and happy work environment.  As such managers should be trained to listen, engage and respond appropriately. Resolving issues early prevents concerns and problems from spiralling out of control and becoming serious. However, in some cases the issue may be too big to solve in this way and then a grievance procedure is necessary.

A grievance policy and procedure gives both employers and employees clear guidelines and instructions for what happens at a grievance procedure. This must include the following steps:

  1. A letter from the employee – This letter should include details of the grievance. Perhaps it could include how they wish the matter be resolved. The letter should be dated and all parties should keep a copy. 
  2. A meeting – Firstly the manager must set up a meeting to discuss the grievance. Importantly, all parties must agree on a reasonable time and place and attend the meeting. Normally the meeting will involve going through the indues raised giving everyone the opportunity to comment. Ideally the meeting will establish facts and explore ways to resolve the problem. The meeting can be carried over into a second meeting if further information is required. The employee is entitled to be accompanied by another person such as a colleague or trade union official. 
  3. A decision – Clearly made with actions if necessary, within an acceptable, agreed timescale. 
  4. Appeal –  Employees have the right to appeal if they are not satisfied with the decision.

What is a Disciplinary Procedure? 

Like the grievance procedure, a disciplinary procedure will follow a pattern of steps. Essentially these steps must be followed in order. They are:

1. Verbal warning –  A meeting should be arranged by the manager to give a verbal warning. The employee may bring a colleague or union representative. The meeting should involve a discussion of the problem and an opportunity for the employee to respond and explain their actions. This should then be followed up by a letter stating a verbal warning was given and include details of improvements required and timescales they must be made by. The letter should also state failure to do so will escalate the matter to stage 2. 

2. Written warning – before the written warning the employee should be invited to another meeting and given the opportunity to respond. The written warning will then be given. Importantly the written warning should clearly set out the problem, suggest solutions and advise of the consequences (including dismissal) if no improvement is made within the 3 months.

3. Final warning – If the agreed improvement is not made a final warning should be sent. Sating improvement must be made or the employee will be dismissed. 

4. Dismissal – If improvement still does not take place, dismissal is the only remaining option. This should take place at a meeting. Management should invite the employee and their representative, if they have one. The employee should be given 14 days to appeal the decision. They should also be given a letter confirming their dismissal.

Gross or serious misconduct

In this instance management are able to go straight to stage 4 or 5. 

Who is responsible for dealing with Disciplinary and Grievance procedures?

Managers and HR are responsible for providing information and handling discipline and grievance issues. All businesses and companies must have an up to date grievance policy and procedure in place. This will outline exactly how grievances should be dealt with. This could be found in:

A company handbook

Human Resources manual

HR Internet site

Employment contract


As an employer it is important to follow a grievance procedure to make sure you have done everything appropriate to deal with the matter. Following a procedure will take emotion, hearsay, personal opinion and bias out of the matter. You deal with the facts of the situation in an ordered and systematic way.  This will avoid the possibility of you and your company being accused of unfair treatment of staff and possibly ending up in front of an employment tribunal.

Engage in Learning provide and online Discipline and Grievance training course. This course will help you understand policies and procedures, apply these in your work and know who to talk to if you have questions or concerns on the issue.

You can view our online Discipline and Grievance training course here.