The difference between a grievance and a concern

A person raising a concern is usually a witness and may have no direct personal involvement in the concern they are raising.  They are simply trying to tell management about the risks they have identified.  These concerns usually affect other people; they are not only about matters that have a personal effect on the person raising the concern.

When a person raises a grievance or makes an allegation about being subject to bullying or harassment, this relates to their own employment situation, employment rights or how they have been treated. 

Examples of a grievance include if the person:

  • is not satisfied with their pay and working conditions
  • disagrees with their terms of employment or workplace rules
  • claims they are being treated unfairly at work
  • claims they are being bullied or harassed, or
  • has a disagreement with a colleague.

See the following table for examples of whistleblowing, grievances or bullying and harassment.

Whistleblowing Grievance or bullying and harassment
Key test: The issue is in the public interest Key test: The issue relates solely to an individual and is a matter of personal interest
Examples Examples
Management persistently pressurises the team into dangerous overtime conditions I haven’t been granted my flexible-working request.
A person’s dangerous working practices are leading to the risk of a serious incident I have been inappropriately shouted at by a senior manager in relation to an action that I took at work

Working practices or actions may be a risk to others.

[Note: Or it is suspected that there is something inappropriate happening in an area which could be a risk to the public, but there is not substantial evidence.]

I am not happy with the way my manager spoke to me when they discovered I was not following the correct health and safety procedures.

Sometimes a person may raise issues which contain both whistleblowing and grievance concerns.  These issues need to be dealt with separately through the appropriate policies or procedures. 

If someone raises a combination of grievance and whistleblowing issues, the organisation must discuss all their concerns with them, and must tell them about all the options available to them, including services that may be able to support them.

If a concern of public interest or patient safety is raised through a grievance procedure, the organisation must ask the person if they want the concern to be raised through these Standards, with the protection they provide.

Issues relating to employment rights may also have a wider public interest (for example, if poor working conditions are having a damaging effect on the service provided).  If it is not clear whether an issue is a grievance or a whistleblowing concern, the manager (or confidential contact) should find out what the person raising the concern wants to achieve (for example, a solution for them personally or a solution for patients, the organisation or the public).  It may be that, whatever outcome the person is hoping for, in the interests of providing a safe service, the public interest issue needs to be considered and investigated.  The concern must not be recorded as whistleblowing if the person raising it does not want it to be. 


Claims of unfair treatment

If someone raises a concern and, at the same time, claims they have been treated unfairly as a result of raising this concern through business as usual, the initial discussion must identify what outcomes the person would like to achieve.  The organisation must also direct them to any appropriate HR procedures to make sure this can be handled appropriately.  It is also particularly important to make sure appropriate support is in place to prevent any further unfair treatment.  If the organisation does not do this, it would be failing to meet its duty of care to its employee.

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Updated: July 20, 2021