Grievance Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Grievance, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Grievance?

An employee’s formal complaint regarding working conditions or failure by management to stick to its contract with the employee.

History and Meaning of Grievance

A grievance is a formal complaint made by an employee regarding some aspect of their employment that they believe to be unfair or unjust. Grievances can be related to many different areas of an employee's working life, including their pay, working conditions, hours of work, or the terms of their employment contract. Grievance procedures are typically provided for in collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) and other employment contracts, and often require employees to first try to resolve their concerns informally with their supervisors, and then to file a formal grievance if informal discussions fail to resolve the issue.

The concept of the grievance procedure can be traced back to the early days of organized labor, when unions were first formed to advocate for the rights and interests of workers. Unions recognized that individual employees often lacked the bargaining power to negotiate directly with their employers for better working conditions, wages, and benefits. To address this power imbalance, unions began negotiating CBAs with employers that included provisions for grievance procedures to allow workers to collectively challenge unfair or arbitrary management decisions.

Examples of Grievance

  1. An employee files a grievance against their supervisor for refusing to grant them a requested day off, even though they provided adequate notice and followed company procedures for requesting time off.

  2. A group of workers files a grievance against their employer for failing to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  3. An employee files a grievance against their employer for violating their employment contract by failing to pay the agreed-upon salary or bonuses.

Legal Terms Similar to Grievance

  1. Arbitration - a process by which a neutral third party is appointed to resolve a dispute between parties, often used as an alternative to going to court.

  2. Mediation - a process by which a neutral third party facilitates discussions between parties to help them resolve a dispute.

  3. Collective bargaining agreement (CBA) - a written agreement between an employer and a union that governs the terms and conditions of employment for covered employees.