How to Write a Formal Grievance Letter
How to Write a Grievance Letter for Wrongful Termination
If you believe you have been terminated in violation of the law or your employment contract, you may need to write a letter to your employer. This letter would inform your employer that you do not agree with the decision to terminate your employment. This is called a grievance letter. With the proper research, you can write your own grievance letter.
Preparing to Write
Read your company’s policies.Consult your employee policy manual or contact your human resources department to see if there is a specific grievance procedure. If your company requires a particular grievance process, you are often required to follow that procedure prior to requesting assistance from the courts or governmental agencies.
- If you kept a copy of your employee manual or have not yet been terminated, read your company’s termination policy. In many states, publishing a set of guidelines or procedures that a company must follow when terminating an employee can constitute an employment contract. If your employer did not follow those procedures or policies, they are likely in breach of contract, and you have grounds for a grievance for wrongful termination.
Recognize wrongful termination.In most states, your employer is allowed to terminate employees for any reason or no reason at all, but not for a prohibited reason. State and federal laws say that there are certain reasons for which you cannot be fired. These are called prohibited reasons. Prohibited reasons include:
- You belonging to a protected class of people, including people over 40, disabled people, people of either gender, pregnant women, people with certain genetic information, people from a particular national origin, people of a particular race, or people of a particular religion.
- Your participation in governmental services, including jury duty and military duty
- Retaliation for whistleblowing activities or making good-faith complaint with government agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division. (Your employer cannot fire you for telling a government agency about laws your employer is breaking.)
- Reasons that are in violation of an employment contract.
Make note of specific incidents.If you believe you were terminated in violation of an employment contract or the company’s policies, write down dates and times you believe the policy or contract was violated. If there were steps your employer was supposed to take prior to termination, make a list of the steps that were not taken. If you believe you were terminated for a prohibited reason, make note of any comments that are (or have been) made or actions that occur that indicate this prohibited reason. Some common incidents may include:
- Jokes that were made or tolerated by management regarding the protected class of people to which you belong
- Dates of positive employee reviews with no complaints, letters of reprimand, or other adverse personnel actions.
- Statements made or tolerated by management negatively stereotyping a protected group to which you belong.
Gather supporting documents.If you are still employed but anticipating a wrongful termination, make copies or otherwise store the pertinent parts of the policy manual or your personnel file off site. Be sure you are legally able to take your employee manual home or you are entitled to those parts of your personnel file. If you remove documents that you are not authorized to remove, you could cause problems with any wrongful termination case you may bring in the future.
Ask for a termination letter.Some state laws require employers to provide a termination letter. If yours does not and your employer does not provide one, ask for it. The worst they can say is no. Even if you do not get a termination letter, ask the person who tells you about your termination why you are being fired.
- If you have already been terminated, contact the human resources department, your supervisor, or the person who terminated you to request this letter or explanation.
- Consider whether the reason given is valid. Giving a valid reason for termination when it is not the actual reason for the termination is called pretext. If you can show the reason given was only a pretext to cover-up for terminating you for a prohibited reason, you may still have a valid grievance.
Get assistance from your union representative.If you are a member of a union, contact your union representative for assistance. Do this even before termination if you have reason to believe you will soon be terminated. Some collective bargaining agreements have specific steps the company must take prior to terminating covered employees or specific grievance procedures an employee must follow.
Writing the Grievance Letter
Address the letter to the appropriate person.Who the appropriate person is will depend on your company. Commonly, you will want to address your letter to one of the following:
- The head of the company’s human resources department
- Your supervisor
- The person who terminated you
Summarize your termination.You want to begin your letter with details of your termination. You should include:
- The date and time you were terminated
- The reason, if any, you were given for the termination
- The person who terminated you
- For example: On April 1, 2015, John Doe called me into his office at 9:30 a.m. He told me I was being let go because of too many absences.
Give details about your dispute.This is the major part of your letter and may be a few paragraphs.
- Tell the reason you believe you were terminated
- Tell any contract or policy provisions that were violated
- Tell about any incidents that indicate you were terminated for a prohibited reason
- Discuss any documentation you have that support your position
- For example: My increased absences were allowed based on the Family Medical Leave Act, and should not have been grounds for termination. I submitted the appropriate paperwork to Jane Doe in Human Resources on February 15, 2015, and as of April 8, 2015, I had only used eight days.
Give a time period for a response.Ask your employer to respond within a defined period of time. Thirty days is usually a reasonable time. Write that you will consider pursuing more serious action if your employer does not respond. Do not make threats of specific actions you will take. It is easy to cross the line between stating the lawful repercussions of not responding and making coercive or extortive threats.
- For example: I look forward to hearing back from you by May 15, 2015. If you do not respond, I will seek counsel to determine what further steps I may wish to take.
Let the letter sit for a couple of days.It is easier to proofread a letter when you have not freshly written it. After you have done other things in your life and slept a couple of times, take the letter out and read it again, making changes as appropriate. Don’t let it sit for longer than a week, though. You must send the letter in a timely basis. If “timeliness” is defined, you will be able to find it in your company grievance policy. Most states do not define “timeliness”. When editing your letter, keep these ideas in mind.
- You don’t want the letter to convey emotion. You are probably angry or hurt about the termination, but you should remove those and other emotions from your letter. Do not call anybody names or make derogatory remarks about the workplace or your co-workers. Stick to the raw facts of what happened.
- Do not make threats. You should not make any threats to physically retaliate, write bad reviews, tell other people, or even threaten to take legal action. There is a fine line between those types of statements you can and cannot make. Unless you are trained to know where the line between proper statements and coercive or harassing threats is in your area, just make a vague reference that you will consider taking additional steps.
Attach copies of any supporting documentation.Copies of any documents that you discussed in the body of your letter should be attached. Do not send your only copies or the originals, if you have them. You may need your copies later.
Sign your letter.Sign your letter in ink with the name that was used in your employee file.
Mailing and Following Up
Mail the letter certified mail.You should mail your grievance letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. You can do this by taking your letter to your local US Post Office.
- The postmaster will assist you in filling out the card.
- You will need to have your address and the employer’s address with you.
Wait for a response.Wait the time you gave in your letter before contacting your employer again or pursuing any further action. If your employer contacts you, be professional and listen to what they have to say. If a reasonable solution can be worked out, that is good. If not, you may need to pursue further action.
- Some grievance procedures require you and the company attempt to negotiate a resolution in good faith. If yours does, attend any negotiation conferences with the intent of reaching an agreement, but knowing what type of agreement is not reasonable to you.
- You may want to consult an attorney and/or your union representative prior to these negotiation conferences. An attorney or your union representative can usually help you know what you can reasonable anticipate if your case goes to trial.
- A negotiated severance package is a common result of these negotiations.
Consult an attorney.If your employer does not respond or if settlement negotiations are not successful, an attorney can tell you what legal remedies are available for your particular set of facts. You will want to locate an attorney who specializes in employment law in your state. Some options you may have include:
- Filing a complaint with a state or federal government agency, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Department of Labor
- Filing suit in court against your employer
Should I put in the letter that I have consulted a lawyer and that I am following up with the EEOC?
Video: How to raise a grievance at work (and get what you want) in 2018
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