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What is the difference between raising a grievance and whistleblowing?

A grievance is making a complaint about something that affects you or your individual employment contract.   For example, if your employer doesn't pay you on time, or if you are demoted unfairly, or given an unreasonable workload.

Whistleblowing matters are those raised by those concerned about workplace wrongdoing more generally - the whistleblower is usually the witness providing information to the employer about a concern which it is in the public interest to raise.


A grievance will usually involve you meeting with your employer or HR team and there may be an investigation.  Your employer has to follow a proper process for dealing with grievances, which as a minimum must meet the Acas Code of Practice.  You have a right to be accompanied at grievance meetings where the complaint is about your employer breaching a term of your employment contract.  You should be given an opportunity to appeal. The remedy for a grievance is a private one, often affecting only the person who raised the grievance (eg an apology, payment due, or a change to the working practices that affect them).

There is no set process that the employer must follow to investigate a whistleblowing concern, but good practice would be for the employer to respect a whistleblower's wish for confidentiality and to provide some feedback about any action taken, as far as they are able.  There is no right to be accompanied to a meeting with an employer to discuss your concerns.  There is no general right to appeal if you are unhappy with how your employer deals with a whistleblowing concern (but check your employer's policy if they have one).  You may never know the outcome of a whistleblowing concern (for example, if your employer investigates the behaviour of another individual and disciplines them as a result  - that would be confidential information between the employer and that other individual).


Bullying is a very difficult matter to tackle.  If you are being bullied yourself, you should raise this, possibly as a grievance.  If your employer has an anti-bullying policy, follow the process there.   If the matter affects the whole team, then it may be better to use the whistleblowing process - but you will want to check what your employer's policy says and whether you can argue that it is in the public interest to raise your concerns.  For example, if you are in a health setting and the bullying has an impact on the quality of care your team can provide, that may engage the public interest.

From an employer perspective, even when an individual says that there is a bullying culture in one team, if no one else comes forward it can be hard for them to take action.    It may be worth raising a collective grievance, or seeking the advice of a trade union or Acas.  You may find the guidance here helpful.  If in doubt, seek advice - call us on 020 3117 2520 or email

As we set out above, an employer should follow a different route for dealing with a whistleblowing concerns and grievances.  Using the wrong process can make matters difficult.  For example, it is difficult for a whistleblower to have their confidentiality respected if a grievance process is followed (a fair process may mean an individual complained about needs to know the basis of the problem to allow them to put their case).  If you want to blow the whistle to your employer and they don't have a policy to follow call us on 020 3117 2520 for advice.  We can help you think through who best to raise your concerns with, and how to express the concern as a matter of public interest, rather than a complaint about how you have been treated as an individual.