Canary Wharf Management Limited v Edebi
Employment Appeal Tribunal
Grievance letters must set out the nature of the tribunal complaint
Section 32 of the Employment Act 2002 encourages the use of grievance procedures as a way of resolving disputes within the workplace. Step 1 of the Standard Grievance Procedure requires the employee to set out their grievance in writing and send it to the employer before they commence their claim. However, it does not specify the form and substance of the written statement.
In the case of Canary Wharf Management Limited (CW) v Edebi, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) had to consider whether a letter of complaint from an employee qualified as a statutory grievance letter, when the letter itself did not set out the complaint being brought to the employment tribunal.
CW employed Edebi as a security officer until 2005. In a letter dated June 2004, Edebi wrote to CW to complain that because his job required him to work outdoors, exposed to traffic fumes, he had suffered asthma. He further advised that CW should be taking steps in accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to make reasonable adjustments to his job. CW believed the matter had been resolved when Edebi’s asthma improved with the use of an inhaler.
Edebi wrote again on 25 March 2005 with a number of complaints about conditions, facilities and remuneration. He complained of physical ailments resulting from his employment as well as the general dissatisfaction of other security officers. Edebi referred to the previous letter, but did not specifically mention the asthma. He stated that his position had become untenable due to poor working conditions.
When Edebi lodged claims for disability discrimination, constructive dismissal and unlawful deduction of wages, the claims proceeded on the basis that he had raised all the relevant issues in the 2005 letter. The disability discrimination claim proceeded because the tribunal considered both letters as a grievance for the purpose of a standard grievance procedure.
The EAT disagreed and it did not accept that Edebi raised a disability discrimination complaint in the 2005 letter by making reference to his health issues among the other list of complaints.
- For the purpose of the standard grievance procedure under the Employment Act 2002, employees need not set out a statement of grievance in technical detail. However, any such statement must be expressed in such a way that an employer can be expected to appreciate that a relevant grievance is being raised.
What you should do
- Always carefully examine any written statements from employees to assess whether a grievance is being made. If an employer fails to identify the grievance and subsequently fails to invite the employee to a meeting, a tribunal award could be subject to a 10-50% uplift.
- Even though employers cannot be expected to resolve grievances that they do not realise are being raised, the threshold for determining whether a grievance has been made is still low. Therefore, upon consideration of the written statement, if there is any doubt about whether a grievance is being made, check the position with the employee.