Statutory grievance procedures
Thorpe and Soleil Investments Ltd v Poat and Lake, EAT website, 25 November 2005
On 3 December 2004, P and L resigned by way of a faxed letter, alleging breaches of their contracts. On 15 March 2005, they lodged tribunal complaints for breach of contract. The company claimed that the complaints were out of time.
The tribunal held that the faxed letter raised a grievance for the purpose of the statutory dispute resolution procedures, so although the three-month time limit for presenting complaints had passed, the claims were in time. As statutory grievance procedures applied and the employees had submitted a Step 1 letter (setting out their grievance in writing) before the end of the three-month time limit, then the time for presenting a complaint was extended by three months.
The appeal was dismissed. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) made a number of findings:
- A tribunal must first address whether the statutory grievance procedures apply and, if so, whether it is the standard or modified procedures.
- Whether the employee intended to raise a grievance or not is irrelevant.
- An employee does not have to comply with a contractual grievance procedure for a letter to amount to a valid statutory grievance.
- The resignation letter was a grievance for the purposes of the statutory grievance procedures, so the claims were presented in time.
This EAT decision (the first about the application of the statutory procedures) highlights the importance of establishing whether or not modified or standard statutory grievance procedures apply. Under the standard procedure, the employee is only required to set out the grievance in writing. Under the modified procedure, they are also required to set out the basis for the grievance (the grounds of the grievance as well as the grievance itself), which requires more detail. The EAT’s approach suggests the content of a grievance letter will be scrutinised to see whether it complies with these technical requirements.