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How to Write an Effective Grievance

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It's your right to work in a place that's safe, free of discrimination and violence, and one in which your employer follows the laws regarding pay, overtime and hiring and firing. If you find that you're not working in one of those places, talk with your employer to try to resolve the issue. If you are a unionized employee, the next step could be to file a formal grievance letter that lays out the problems you're having. If you are a nonunion worker, it's really more of a "complaint" letter. Whether you're writing a less-formal grievance letter to company leaders or you're going outside the company, effective grievances will state the circumstances in the most objective manner possible and will have a clear follow-up request.

Document Problems

You can start by making notes about the items you want to discuss in your grievance letter, focusing on the facts and not the emotions involved. Write down the names of people involved, the dates incidents occurred and the nature of the incidents. If you have evidence of problems, such as video footage or emails, make a copy and save them on your home computer, as work computers are generally not your property and your employer can remove them at any time.

Get Helpful Information

Your company's employee or union handbook or your employment contract may contain guidance about how to file a grievance and what information to include, when it's appropriate to file one and how long you have to file the grievance. If you don't find any helpful information, consult your company's human resources department to find out what protocols you are supposed to follow when you're having an issue with your employer. If you're a member of a union, contact your union steward and ask for guidance. In some cases, your union will help you write the letter.

State the Facts

A typical grievance letter will start out by stating that you're filing a grievance. Following that, describe what happened, starting with the most recent events and working backwards. Include the dates certain incidents happened, the people involved -- including their job titles or their relation to you in the workplace -- and how the actions violated the law. Rely on the facts or laws that apply to the situation, and avoid making personal judgments about the people involved. In the next paragraph, list the actions you've already taken to try to resolve the issue. Since a grievance is often a last resort, by now you should have talked to your supervisors or other people involved to try to work out other possible solutions.

Request a Change

In the final paragraph of the letter, state clearly the actions you would like to see happen to resolve the issue. For example, you might start out by saying "To resolve this problem, I propose the following," and then list the ideal actions you'd like to see taken. If you need help moving forward because of a disability or workplace injury, be sure to make that request clear in this final section of the letter. Then sign the letter cordially and hand it over to your human resources department or your union representatives.


Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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