Personal Grievances – in a nutshell

A personal grievance is a complaint that an employee can make against a current or former employer. They are covered in part 9 of the Employment Relations Act (“the Act”). A personal grievance can be raised in relation to a number of different topics, such as:


  • An unjustified dismissal - where an employee seeks to challenge the ending of their employment.
  • An unjustified disadvantage - where an employer has done something to negatively impact you, such as changing the terms of your employment in a way that is unjustifiable.
  • Discrimination or racial or sexual harassment.
  • Duress over union membership.
  • An employer failing to comply with the part of the ERA which relates to vulnerable workers e.g. cleaners.


This list is not exhaustive, there are a number of other topics that an employee can raise a personal grievance about. The ability to raise a personal grievance aims to be broad and flexible.


Raising a personal grievance is not a strictly formal exercise, they are meant to be practically usable. If raising a personal grievance, you simply need to make your employer aware that you are doing so. Formal documentation is not necessary, but best practice would be to set out the situation in a letter to be provided to your employer. This process does however have a strict timeframe in that employees have 90 days to raise a grievance. This period begins on the date the alleged action occurred or the date it came to the employee’s attention.


The next step is to attempt to settle the grievance. Personal grievances are often resolved by negotiation between the parties, mediation being the primary dispute resolution mechanism under the Act. There are a number of remedies available – reinstatement, reimbursement and compensation. Reinstatement of the employee’s former position is an option but may not always be sought, or appropriate. The employee may also be reimbursed for wages lost as a result of the personal grievance. Compensation tends to be the most common in situations of settlement agreements. Parties may also agree to any other remedy they see fit e.g. the cost of counselling, agreement to change performance management processes etc.


Personal grievances are a useful process which can help challenge the power imbalance that can sometimes be present in employment relationships. They help to equip employees with a way of challenging potentially unjust or unfair situations. If used well, employees and employers are able to reach an agreement satisfactory to both parties.


Having to deal with an issue in the workplace can be tricky terrain. It can be beneficial to reach out for legal advice if you require assistance. The team at Schnauer and Co are more than happy to help with any employment related issues you may have.


Anna Graham