Sorting out work problems informally

If you have a problem at work, you don't have to just put up with it. Follow these tips to try to resolve the problem informally. It might be that your shifts have changed or it might be problematic behaviour from a colleague, your line manager, or a customer. If trying to deal with it informally isn’t successful, you might have to use your work’s grievance procedure.
Man mending computer

Before you tell them about the problem

If you are experiencing an ongoing problem like bullying or discrimination, the first thing to do is keep a diary of it. It's important to have a record of what's happening to you, how often, and when. Be as precise as possible.

If someone is bullying or harassing you, avoid directly confronting them. If you do, it risks becoming a personal dispute. This makes it more difficult for your employer to deal with it as a problem you want them to solve for you. You could also get caught up in a complaint made against you by your colleague.

Who you should speak to

You would usually speak to your manager about any problems you have. If the problem is caused by your manager, find someone else in your organisation who is in a position to deal with the situation and make recommendations and decisions. That might be the person who has responsibility for human resources, a health and safety officer, a trade union representative, or your manager’s manager. Sometimes your work’s grievance procedure will include who you should talk to informally about a problem.

What to say

Whoever you decide to talk to, plan what you are going to say first and write it down. Usually, you will have to attend an informal meeting on your own.

You will need to stick to the facts and provide examples (with dates).

Briefly explain the impact it has on you.

If you can, suggest a solution.

You will need to stay calm and polite so you don’t lose control of the situation.

Practise what you are going to say with a friend first.

If you are having a meeting with your managers about a complaint you have made or because someone has complained about your work or behaviour, you may be able given the option to take a fellow worker or a trade union representative with you to the meeting. This is often a good idea, as it gives you moral support as well as someone to take notes for you about what is said and when action will be taken by. If you have a special need that requires you to have accompaniment at the meeting as a reasonable adjustment, your managers should allow this regardless if you are given the option.

After you have spoken to them

Immediately after you have talked to them, make a note of what was said by both of you, date it and keep it safe. It is particularly important to keep a note of the outcome – did your manager say they’d get back to you by a particular date with a decision?

If nobody does get back to you, you will need to follow it up. Ask for an update.

If the problem continues, your problem is not taken seriously, or there is unreasonable delay in getting back to you, you may have to make a formal complaint using your employer's grievance procedures

Don’t delay

Don't delay in taking steps to deal with a problem. There's usually a 3 month less one day deadline for taking a case to an employment tribunal and you will usually need to contact ACAS to tell them you want to bring a claim within that period. 

About this guide

The information in this guide applies to England and Wales. 

The law is complicated. We recommend you try to get advice from the sources we have suggested if at all possible.

June 2023
Bar Standards Board logoThis guide was written by Law for Life thanks to funding from the Bar Standards Board.

Law for Life would like to thank all those who provided advice and feedback on this guide and Rebecca Thomas from 42BR Barristers who peer reviewed the guide.

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