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Personal grievances are the main way that employees in New Zealand can raise legal complaints against their employers. There is a broad range of legitimate grounds for an employee to raise a personal grievance.  It is vital for employers to be aware of both the different kinds of personal grievance and the process once an employee has raised a grievance. This article will briefly summarise:

  • the different types of personal grievance; the process requirements; and
  • cover an important aspect of the process that is often forgotten. That being the 90-day limit for employees to file a grievance after a particular event.

The Different Types of Personal Grievance

As the main way employees in New Zealand can take legal issues against the employer, there are a range of different legal justifications for raising a personal grievance. They can vary in seriousness concerning the possible penalties for an employer. Employees can raise personal grievances if they believe they were:

  • unjustifiably dismissed;
  • unjustifiably ‘disadvantaged’ in their employment;
  • discriminated against in some way;
  • sexually or racially harassed;
  • bullied; or
  • subjected to negative treatment due to their involvement in a union.

Of these, the two most common categories of personal grievance are unjustifiable dismissals and unjustifiable disadvantages. There is a reasonable amount of complexity in terms of when a dismissal is ‘unjustifiable’ and when an employee was ‘disadvantaged’. 

Unjustifiable dismissal covers instances where an employee can prove either that the employer did not have a good reason to dismiss them, or if the dismissal process was unfair. The concept of unjustifiable disadvantage is even broader and can cover employees who believe that they have:

  • been given an unfair warning, suspension, or demotion;
  • had hours of work or pay changed without consultation;
  • been underpaid;
  • been misled by the employer in some way;
  • not had the opportunity to respond to allegations against them; or
  • not had a safe workplace.

The Process for Raising Personal Grievances

Typically, the first step if an employee has an issue is for them to talk to their employer in the first instance. You can help to keep the employment relationship positive by trying to resolve the problem informally first.

Otherwise, if the problem remains unresolved, employees can formally raise a personal grievance in writing by communication to their employer. This communication should describe  the personal grievance and request a formal meeting to resolve the issue. The employee needs to state their complaint and why they believe that they have a grievance. 

The employee must provide enough detail about the issue for you, or whoever the employer is, to respond to the problems they raise. If an employee:

  • does not raise the grievance clearly enough or offer enough detail, it may mean that they cannot take legal action;
  • has raised a valid personal grievance and fails to resolve it through a meeting with their employer, the next step in New Zealand is mediation; or
  • if mediation between the parties fails, then they have to refer the matter to the Employment Relations Authority.

The 90-Day Limit

A commonly missed aspect of personal grievances is the time limitation. While you should communicate this to employees in their employment agreement, it is still widely misunderstood by employees and employers alike. The law is that an employee must raise a personal grievance with their employer within 90 days of when it arose or first came to the employee’s attention (whichever is later).

For example, you fire an employee, they have 90 days from the end of their employment to raise their grievance with you as their employer.

Key Takeaways

Personal grievances are the legal mechanism for employees in New Zealand to resolve issues with their employer. There are many kinds of grounds (in the Employment Relations Act) for raising a personal grievance, ranging in severity. The two most common kinds are unjustified dismissal and unjustified disadvantage. Employees must raise their personal grievances with their employer, and have a time limit in doing so: they must raise them within 90 days of the issue that caused the employee to want to file the grievance. In New Zealand, if you have an employment relationship problem, informal resolution of issues is always encouraged before you take further legal action in the employment court.

If you have any other questions about personal grievances, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.


How long do employees have to raise a personal grievance?

Employees have 90 days to raise a personal grievance from the date of the event that gave rise to the issue or the date that the employee learned about the issue (whichever is later).

Are personal grievances and claims of unjustified dismissal the same thing?

No, they are different concepts. A claim of unjustified dismissal is a type of personal grievance, but there can be other kinds of personal grievance such as bullying or discrimination.

Which types of employees can raise a personal grievance?

All employees can raise personal grievances. This includes casual employees.

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