Often, the first step to resolving a problem at work will be to raise it informally with your manager or senior manager. It may be that approaching it in this way can resolve the matter quickly and successfully. However, if you are not out at work, or if you are not comfortable talking to your manager about the discrimination or bullying you are experiencing, then there are other routes you could try before using the formal grievance process.
If your workplace has a network group for lesbian, gay and bisexual employees then you could talk to them first about the difficulties you are experiencing. This may be a good place to go for both advice and support. It may also help you identify further courses of action, or useful people to approach within the organisation about your experiences.
Alternatively, you could talk to Stonewall. Our free info line (08000 50 20 20) can offer you information about sexual orientation equality in the workplace. If your employer is a member of our Diversity Champions scheme we may be able to give you a useful point of contact within your workplace who you could then talk to about the difficulties you are having. We can also direct you to gay-friendly solicitors or support groups in your area.
However, if the above approaches do not resolve the matter, then you could consider using your employer’s formal grievance procedure. You should be able to find an outline of this procedure from:
• employee handbook
• human resources (HR) department
• contract of employment
• staff intranet
Employers should set out their procedures for handling grievances in writing and they should be clear to employees how this process will work.
Employer grievance procedures are covered by the ACAS Code of Practice, which sets out what you and your employer should do to handle grievance cases. This is a new Code and it came into effect on 6 April 2009.
Many employees are concerned that if they raise a grievance they will be sacked or mistreated in their workplace. However, the law says that you shouldn't be dismissed for raising a genuine grievance about one of your statutory employment rights, for example, if you feel you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation. Neither should you suffer disadvantage (eg. not be promoted or lose overtime) for raising a genuine grievance over your employment rights.
According to the Code, your employer’s grievance procedure could include the following steps:
• writing a letter to your employer
• meeting with your employer
• An appeal your employer's decision if unhappy
The grievance letter
You should put the details of your grievance in writing and submit it to your employer. Make sure that you date the letter and keep a copy for yourself, as you may need it later on. Try to cover all the factual points of why you are making your grievance. Perhaps you can also include in your letter details of what you would like them to do in order to resolve the problem. For example, you may want an apology from them or your colleagues, or perhaps you would like to see some improved training on diversity or sexual orientation equality in the workplace.
The grievance meeting
After they have received your letter, your employer should arrange a meeting with you at a reasonable time and place to discuss the issues you raised in your grievance. You should make every effort to attend the meeting. You have a legal right to take a person with you to the meeting, and this should be a colleague or a Trade Union representative.
Some Trade Unions have specific groups or forums for lesbian, gay and bisexual members, which may be helpful if you feel uncomfortable about approaching your local representative. However, you first need to make a request in order to take someone with you to the meeting. If no colleague is willing to accompany you, and you are not a trade union member, ask your employer if you can bring a family member or a Citizens Advice Bureau worker with you to the meeting. Your employer does not have to agree to this.
During the meeting your companion can present on your behalf, or sum up your case, talk on your behalf, or discuss issues raised with you during the meeting. However, this person cannot actually answer questions directed at you on your behalf. If they are concerned about how they might be affected by coming to the meeting with you, assure them that they are protected from unfair dismissal or other mistreatment for supporting you.
Before attending the meeting it may help to put in writing things that you need to raise in the meeting, so you have a reminder in front of you in case you forget important points you want to make. This may be especially helpful if there have been a number of occasions when you have felt harassed or bullied or discriminated against.
It's up to your employer what format the meeting takes but usually they’ll talk to you about the points you raise and let you comment or expand on them. This will help your employer to establish the facts about the problem and possibly think of ways of resolving the issues. It may be that your employer needs to investigate further, in which case they should rearrange to finish the meeting for a later date.
After the meeting, your employer should write to you to tell you what they have decided.
If you are not satisfied with your employer’s decision, or you think the procedure followed was incorrect, you can make an appeal.
You should make your appeal as soon as you can, without an unreasonable delay. Your employer should give you enough time to make this appeal. You should make an effort to follow all your employer's procedures as any future Employment Tribunal will consider this when they make their judgment.
You should put in writing the details of your appeal- why you are making it and who you don’t agree with the decision they have made. Where possible, a different and more senior manager should deal with your appeal.
The appeal hearing is similar to the original meeting, and you have a right to a companion, as before.
After the appeal meeting, your employer must tell you what they have decided. This is your employer's final decision.
If you have exhausted these procedures and are still unhappy with the decisions taken, then you could consider going to an employment tribunal:www.employmenttribunals.gov.uk.
There are time limits on how long you can wait before going to a tribunal. This is usually three months on from the incident about which you are raising a grievance. This means that you need to make sure the grievance process doesn’t take you over this time limit.
Since the introduction of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations in 2003 there have been a number of successful tribunal cases on the grounds of sexual orientation discrimination. You can find out more about them here.
What other steps could be taken by employers and employees?
There are other steps available other than formal grievances and tribunals. These could include:
• Conciliation: when a tribunal claim has been, or is about to be made, conciliation is offered to both sides to try to resolve the matter without the need to attend a hearing. It's voluntary but both parties must agree to the process in order for it to take place.
• Mediation: Mediation is a voluntary type of dispute resolution. It involves an impartial person (a mediator) helping individuals or groups reach a solution on a dispute. The mediator can talk to both sides separately or together. Mediators do not make judgments but they can help those involved to understand the issues and clarify the options for resolving the matter.
• Arbitration: Arbitration is another voluntary method which involves an impartial outsider being asked to make a decision on a dispute. The arbitrator will make a decision on a case based on the evidence presented by the parties. For arbitration to take place, both parties must agree to go to arbitration; they should also agree in advance that they will abide by the decisions made.
For more information about these alternative procedures and how they might help you, see the ACAS website.
If you cannot find the information you need on this website, you can call our info line on 08000 50 20 20 (Mon-Fri 9:30am - 5:30pm) and we will try to point you in the right direction.