Filing a grievance while you are employed is not only possible, it's preferable. It allows you to take advantage of the internal structure of the company to help everyone involved reach a resolution that makes you comfortable and sets in place appropriate corrections to protect against a recurrence. You should file a grievance as quickly as possible after the event, while the details of the incident are fresh in your mind and in the memories of any witnesses.
If your grievance involves speech or action that qualifies as harassment -- such as racial slurs, derogatory remarks about your religion or unequal treatment due to your gender -- take your complaint to your supervisor, the manager responsible for the person who committed the act or your company's Equal Employment Opportunity office. If there is no EEO office, your Human Resources, or HR, representative should fill this role. If your company does not have an appropriate office or fails to take action, file a grievance with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at the nearest local office in person, by mail or by telephone. Federal law generally requires that you file your complaint within 180 days of the incident.
Health and Safety Grievances
Unsafe work procedures or conditions, like exposure to harsh chemicals or a requirement to climb without a fall-prevention system, are grounds for a grievance. Raise your concerns first with your supervisor and, if he fails to address the issue, file a grievance with your company’s health and safety or security office. If your company does not take action, file a complaint with the federal Occupational Health and Safety Organization using its online complaint form at osha.gov/pls/osha7/eComplaintForm. You must file the complaint within 30 days of the occurrence.
Union Contract Violation Grievances
At companies that have a union, the union steward serves as a filter for grievances regarding failure to live up to the terms of the contract. It's best to try to resolve the issue by raising it with your supervisor, but if she does not fix the problem, notify your union steward, who will address the issue according to the grievance procedures specified in the contract. The contract will state, and the union steward can tell you, how many days you have to file your grievance following the incident. You also can use this mechanism to file a grievance against a change in company policy that violates the contract.
Actions You Cannot Grieve
Management incompetence is annoying and regrettable, but it’s not a grievable offense. You can only file a grievance against your boss if he violates federal discrimination laws, health and safety standards or a union contract. It is difficult to file a grievance against a non-management co-worker because federal law generally holds employers responsible for the actions of supervisors and managers, but not line workers. Your employer, however, has a responsibility to provide a harassment-free and safe workplace. So, if a fellow employee commits an act of discrimination or does something to place others in danger, you must first raise the issue with your supervisor. If management fails to act, then file a grievance against the company for failing to take appropriate action.
A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.