Legal Position

Under the Employment Relations Act employees can raise a personal grievance if they believe that they have been:

  • Unjustifiably dismissed
  • Disadvantaged in their employment because of some unjustified action of the employer
  • Discriminated against in their employment
  • Sexually or racially harassed at work
  • Subject to duress because of their membership or non-membership of a union or employees’ organisation.

The personal grievance procedures are the only avenue open to an employee who wishes to challenge his or her dismissal.

Note: The Employment Relations Act has expanded the definition of personal grievance to include new types of discrimination and harassment.


Personal grievances for discrimination extend to discrimination on any of the grounds prohibited under the Human Rights Act.

Discrimination on the basis of an employee’s involvement in the activities of a union is also prohibited. In any case where an employee who is (or has been) involved in union activities is treated differently, is dismissed, or is required to retire or resign, there is a rebuttal presumption that there was discrimination on the grounds of union involvement. In other words, the onus is on the employer to prove that the action taken was justified or that a permitted exception applied.


An employee may raise a personal grievance if he or she is sexually or racially harassed at work by the employer or by a representative of the employer. The employee’s manager, supervisor or other person who is in a position of authority over the employee would be a representative for these purposes.

If an employee makes a complaint that he or she has been sexually or racially harassed by a co-worker, or by a client or customer of the employer, the employer must:

  • Inquire into the facts
  • And if satisfied after such an inquiry that the harassment occurred, take whatever steps are practicable to prevent any repetition of that behaviour

If practicable steps are not taken and the behaviour is repeated, the employee is deemed to have a personal grievance under the Act. In addition to the remedies available for personal grievances generally, the Authority or Court may make recommendations to the employer as to the actions that should be taken to prevent further harassment. These recommendations may include the transfer of the perpetrator to a different position, or take disciplinary action or rehabilitative action in respect of the perpetrator.

Sexual harassment now includes a direct or indirect request made to an employee for sexual activity. The use of language, visual material, or physical behaviour that directly or indirectly subjects the employee to behaviour which is unwelcome or offensive also constitutes sexual harassment. Offensive material conveyed by way of email may fall into this category.

See Harassment Complaints Procedure