Ensure you follow the grievance process right

By | 2017-07-25T21:42:07-04:00 July 28th, 2017|3 Comments

A reader asked about my blog on March 22, 2017, “Can an RN sue her nurse manager for defamation,” in which I wrote about filing a grievance using the employer’s policy.

The reader wanted more general information about grievances and what a grievance should include.

Simply put, grievance procedures are processes by which you can question or appeal a decision by someone who supervises or evaluates you, and in which that person’s decision affects your job security.

Usually, the superior’s decision is in the form of a performance appraisal, a written disciplinary action against you or a termination of your employment.

As you may know, there are many types of grievance procedures in the workplace. They may be informal, meaning a statement in the employee handbook encourages that any disagreement be resolved among the parties involved. Often, a hierarchy of individuals in administration are listed and the employee can go up this line to attempt to resolve the issue.

Sometimes, these informal grievance procedures are helpful, and sometimes, little or no solid resolution of the employee’s concern takes place.

Formal grievance procedures are more structured and provide for a clear step-by-step process that the employee must follow within specific time frames. Located most often in the employee handbook, formal grievance procedures include a definition of what is grievable (e.g., any decision affecting the employee, or any decision except one of termination), who can use the procedure (e.g., probationary vs. nonprobationary employees) and whether the grievance must be in writing and, if so, a potential sample of the employee form to use.

Although any grievance can seem overwhelming, it is important to go through whichever processes are available, so a record exists of your disagreement with a particular employment decision that affects you. Most employers keep performance appraisals and grievances in your employee personnel file, so preserving your position about the issue you grieved is vital.

Preserving your position in writing is also important should the issue not be resolved in your favor, and the employer has decided the basis of the discipline or firing must be reported to your state board of nursing. One question your board will ask is: If you thought the discipline or firing was unfair, did you grieve the decision?

These online resources might be helpful in handling your grievance yourself:

“The 10-Tip Grievance Guide!” by Tara Daynes (2012)

“Sample Letters for Discipline and Grievance” by the Jersey Advisory and Conciliation Service

Nurses and the Law: A Guide to Principles and Applications, 2nd Edition, by Nancy J. Brent (2001)

What should your grievance look like?

If your employer requires you to use a particular form, you should use that form. If your employer does not require a certain form, you may create your own form or letter.

In either situation, you need to use facts to support your position that the disciplinary action, the performance appraisal or the employment termination is not justified. Such facts would include actual events, the employer policy or procedure that was not followed or applied correctly to you, and anything the person making the decision misstated or omitted.

Employers also must adhere to their own policies. Therefore, if you are grieving a termination in which your employer terminated you without first issuing a written warning required by company policy, you would want to include this in your grievance.

If it is available to you, evidence that other employees in your same or similar situation were treated differently (e.g., they were given a verbal warning instead of the written warning you received), might help win your grievance.

You should also include what you want the grievance to do for you. For example, you might want to have a written performance appraisal redone because of inaccuracies. Or you may want your termination rescinded.

Most employers do not allow an attorney to participate in the grievance process for you. This does not hinder you, however, in consulting with a nurse attorney or attorney who can help you “behind the scenes” to draft and prepare your grievance and provide emotional support as you participate in the grievance process.

Editor’s note: Nancy Brent’s posts are designed for educational purposes only and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. Visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state.


Course Related to ‘Employee Complaint’

CE736: Performance Management
 (1 contact hr)

Organizations use performance management to set goals, monitor data and follow progress toward those goals. Performance management is meant to improve patient satisfaction and patient clinical outcomes, and to control the costs of providing care. Collected data are analyzed to determine how well an organization’s processes are working. Once the data are analyzed, they are used to make informed decisions about a process. Performance management allows an organization to determine the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations and processes. It allows operational aspects that affect organizational goals to be reviewed, including service and unit-level functions, and even the performance of individual employees. This module informs nurses about the fundamental concepts of performance management in order for practice areas to gain the basic skills to develop a practical strategy for achieving its performance measurements.

About the Author:

Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN
Our legal information columnist Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN, concentrates her solo law practice in health law and legal representation, consultation, and education for healthcare professionals, school of nursing faculty and healthcare delivery facilities. Brent has conducted many seminars on legal issues and has published extensively in the area of law and nursing practice. She brings more than 40 years of experience to her role of legal information columnist. Her posts are designed for educational purposes only and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. 


  1. Avatar
    Yolanda January 11, 2018 at 7:07 am - Reply

    Hi I’m wondering if I have a leg to stand on as it pertains to my recent termination from a nursing job. Termination due to attendance violations- excessive tardiness and a 1 or 2 sick calls made. I had previously been suspended for 3 days for this problem almost 1 year ago. I have worked in the dept.for 17 years. I know it was my fault but I feel betrayed by this new manager and will be writing a grievance rubutal letter. Can you assist in any key wording or things to say in my letter.

  2. Avatar
    ANITA M AIKENS September 4, 2018 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    Hello I’m being written up for false accusations from a patient whom lots of employees had been complaining about and patients. I am filing a grievance but having a hard time not putting my feeling into into in, need to know exactly what to say. Can you please assist me in writing my grievance.

  3. Avatar
    Camille February 13, 2019 at 2:21 pm - Reply

    Dear Nancy,

    Recently I received a letter to appear before Labor Relations regarding an oral medication that I had given and forgot to scan. I remember the day clearly. I had some heavy patients and one of my patients NJ tube cracked, she was a failure to thrive patient. I was assisting the surgeon in getting supplies and trying to repair the tube. Unfortunately, I had had the oral augmentin in my pocket. I did my 5 rights, administered the med and didn’t scan it. It ends up I gave the oral medication at 5 and it was due at 8. I thought it was every 8 hours the medicine. I had it written down for q 8 hours. I don’t know what happened. Now I have to go to Labor Relations for an interrogation hearing.

    Nancy, my Nurse Manager is punitive and she herself does not follow the Policy and Procedures of the Hospital. As a matter of fact our crash cart was expired for 5 days and it was my Nurse Manager that signed off on it for those 5 days. Where is her accountability for following the Hospital P&P? Is there anything a Nurse can do to report her manager?

    Please enlighten me. I have been in NUrsing for 13 years and pride myself on being safe but human. If staff nurses have to be accountable, how do we hold our manager to the same standards?

    Please help! Camille Dyer,BSN,CPN,RN

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