If a worker complains to you

Multipage Guide

What is on this page?

How to respond

Who is this page for?

  • Employers

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • England flag icon


    • |
    • Scotland flag icon


    • |
    • Wales flag icon


How to respond

You have two ways of sorting out the situation:

  • Trying to deal with the complaint informally
  • Using your grievance procedures.

You may also want to use other people to help you sort the situation out through something like conciliation or mediation. This is often called 'alternative dispute resolution' and this guide tells you where you can find out more about it.

Make sure that in the way you respond to a complaint, you do not unlawfully discriminate against anyone.

For example:

A disabled worker with a learning difficulty complains that another worker has discriminated against them. The employer takes what the disabled worker says less seriously than what the other worker says in response. If the employer's attitude is because of the disabled person's learning disability, this is likely to be unlawful discrimination.

If anyone involved in a complaint is a disabled worker who needs reasonable adjustments to remove barriers they would otherwise face in taking part in the complaints process, you must make these. You can read more about reasonable adjustments.

It may be that you can look into the complaint and decide what to do without it being necessary for your worker to make a formal complaint.

If the complaint is about the way you or your organisation does something, think about getting it changed.

If it is about how the person’s manager or colleagues are behaving towards them, it may help to speak informally to the person or people involved before getting into formal procedures.

This will only be possible if the person who has complained agrees that you should speak to the other person informally.

Make sure you tell the worker what the result of their informal complaint is, otherwise they may make a formal complaint or bring an Employment Tribunal claim.

If a worker makes a formal complaint, this is often referred to as a ‘grievance’.

You can find out about investigating and handling grievances (whether they relate to discrimination or to other workplace issues) from Acas. 

If your worker is not happy about the outcome of a grievance procedure, then they have a right to appeal. 

If you want to get help in sorting out a complaint about discrimination, you could see if the person complaining will agree to what is usually called ‘alternative dispute resolution’ or ADR. ADR involves finding a way of sorting out the complaint without a formal tribunal hearing. ADR techniques include mediation and conciliation.

In complaints relating to work situations, this can happen:

  • as part of an informal process
  • when your formal grievance procedures are being used, or
  • before an Employment Tribunal claim has been brought or finally decided.

There are different organisations who may be able to help with this:

  • Trade Unions
  • Acas
  • ADRnow, an information service run by the Advice Services Alliance (ASA).

The action you take will depend on the specific details of the case and its seriousness. You should take into consideration any underlying circumstances and the outcome of previous similar cases. Actions you take could be:

  • Some form of alternative dispute resolution (which is explained above).
  • Equality training for the person who discriminated.
  • Appropriate disciplinary action (you can find out more about disciplinary procedures from Acas).

If your investigation and any appeal find that there was no unlawful discrimination, then you need to find a way for everyone to continue to work together.

You may be able to do this yourself, or it may be helpful to bring in help from outside as with alternative dispute resolution (which is explained above).

Last updated: 19 Feb 2019

Further information

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Phone: 0808 800 0082
Textphone: 0808 800 0084

You can email using the contact form on the EASS website.

Also available through the website are BSL interpretation, web chat services and a contact us form.


Opening hours:

9am to 7pm Monday to Friday
10am to 2pm Saturday
closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays

Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.