Personal grievances

A ‘personal grievance’ is an action that you can take against a current or former employer when you have an employment issue you are unable to resolve.

When can a personal grievance be raised?

Employees, including those in a , can bring a personal grievance if they believe they:

  • were unjustifiably dismissed
  • were unjustifiably ‘disadvantaged’ in their employment
  • were discriminated against on a prohibited ground
  • were sexually or racially harassed
  • were subjected to duress due to membership, or non-membership, of a union or an employees’ organisation
  • did not have obligations relating to continuity of employment met when they were affected by restructuring
  • were disadvantaged due to their not meeting legal requirements for:
    • agreed hours of work
    • availability provisions
    • reasonable notice periods to be given before cancellation of a shift
    • reasonable compensation to be paid if a shift is cancelled
    • secondary employment provisions
  • were treated unfairly for lawfully refusing to work in certain circumstances
  • were treated unfairly because they were believed to be affected by family violence
  • were subject to adverse conduct for a prohibited health and safety reason, or were asked not to perform a function or role under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
  • had retaliatory action taken against them after making a protected disclosure of information
  • did not have their employment protected while they participated in Reserve Forces service or training
  • did not have their employment protected while they attended jury service
  • were compelled as a shop employee to work on Easter Sunday or treated adversely for refusing to.

Personal grievances are covered by the Employment Relations Act 2000.

Employment Relations Act 2000 - New Zealand Legislation(external link)

How to raise a personal grievance

There are various ways that you can raise a personal grievance. First, you should check that the type of complaint can be brought as a personal grievance. If the complaint is not covered by the personal grievance process, you can still raise the issue with your employer and work towards a resolution.

Raising the issue with your employer

If you have been unable to resolve an issue yourself or with the help of Early Resolution or mediation services and you decide to raise a personal grievance, this must be done within certain timeframes.

The personal grievance must be raised in such a way that your employer fully understands that a grievance has been raised and the reasons for it.

You must clearly state what your complaint is and the reasons why you believe you have a grievance. It is best to do this in writing so that everyone is clear.

You must give enough detail about the problem for your employer to respond to the issues. If you do not raise the grievance clearly enough, or with enough details, it could mean that you are unable to take legal action.

You should keep a copy of the letter or email for reference. If you raise the grievance verbally, both you and your employer should take notes of what was said in case there is a dispute later.

Sample letter: Raising a personal grievance [DOCX, 19 KB]

Early resolution


Filing a personal grievance claim at the Employment Relations Authority (ERA)

The ERA is an independent organisation that sits below the Employment Court.

The ERA helps to resolve employment relationship problems by looking into the facts and making decisions based on the merits of the case, not on technicalities.

You can file a personal grievance claim with the ERA without having to discuss it with your employer or go to mediation if you believe your employer has acted in an unfair or unreasonable manner. On review, the ERA may suggest that you try mediation first.

Employment Relations Authority(external link)

Escalating unresolved issues

Timeframe for raising a personal grievance

You must raise a personal grievance with your employer within 90 days of the issue arising or coming to your attention, whichever is later. For example, if you were fired, you would have 90 days from the end of your employment to raise a grievance for unjustified dismissal.

In the case of sexual harassment, the personal grievance needs to be raised within 12 months of it happening or the date you became aware of it, whichever is later. This 12-month timeframe only applies if the alleged sexual harassment happened on or after 13 June 2023. If it happened before 13 June 2023, the 90-day rule applies.

Raising a personal grievance after the time limit

If your employer agrees, you may raise a personal grievance after the time limit of 90 days or 12 months.

If they do not agree, you can ask the ERA to decide if you can still raise a personal grievance. You can only do this if you can prove the delay was due to exceptional circumstances.

Examples of exceptional circumstances can include when:

  • your representative failed to raise the grievance in time
  • you were unable to raise a grievance due to health issues caused by the problem
  • your employment agreement did not explain the services available for resolving problems, or did not state the 90-day notification period
  • your employer failed to provide a reason for a dismissal when asked.

Timeframes for starting proceedings with the ERA after raising a personal grievance

Employees have 3 years after they first raised the personal grievance with their employer to lodge a claim with the ERA.

Employment Relations Authority(external link)

Personal grievances in a triangular work arrangement

Employees in a triangular employment situation are employees of one employer who perform work for another organisation (the third party). Examples might be labour-for-hire, ‘temp’ assignment or employees on secondment.

You can bring a personal grievance claim against your employer (the agency) and, if relevant, the third party (controlling third party) they work for. The third party must direct or control your day-to-day work.

The controlling third party can be added to a personal grievance claim if their behaviour or actions contributed to the problem.

This may include behaviours like bullying, harassment or discrimination. Both your employer and the controlling third party could be responsible for providing remedies or compensation to you.

Bullying, harassment and discrimination

Both employees and employers in a triangular employment situation can apply to the ERA to add the controlling third party to a personal grievance claim, and for remedies to be divided between the employer and controlling third party.

Triangular employment

Employment Relations (Triangular Employment) Amendment Act 2019 - New Zealand Legislation(external link)

Unjustifiable dismissal

Employees can raise a personal grievance where their employer’s actions resulted in an unjustified dismissal of the employee. An employee may claim that their dismissal was unjustifiable if they can show, in writing, that they were dismissed and they believe that:

  • the employer did not have a good reason to dismiss them, or
  • the process was unfair.

Good reason

Examples of situations where there may be good reason for dismissal include:

If you have been dismissed, you have the right to ask your employer for a written statement of the reasons for dismissal. You can make this request up to 60 days after you found out about the dismissal.

Your employer must provide the written statement within 14 days of your request.

If your employer fails to provide this written statement, you may be able to raise a grievance after the end of the 90-day notification period in special circumstances.

Good reason

Fair process

What is fair depends on the circumstances. Employers do not have to have to complete the process perfectly — minor errors may not make the whole process unfair. Any relevant provisions in the employment agreement and workplace policies or procedures must be followed.

Where the workplace does not have clear guidance then the test is: ‘what would a fair and reasonable employer have done in the circumstances?’

For example, it may not be seen as reasonable if an employer only gave short notice of requirement to attend a disciplinary meeting and did not give the employee the opportunity to have a support person.

Fair process

Unjustified disadvantage

Employees can raise a personal grievance where their employer’s actions resulted in an unjustified disadvantage to the employee.

Employees can raise a personal grievance if they believe:

  • their employer has done something that has affected their employment or conditions of work in a way that has disadvantaged them and/or made it harder for them to do their job, and
  • the employer’s action was not justified — meaning that it was not fair and reasonable or was not in good faith.

Good faith

Examples could include where the employer:

  • did not deal with an issue that was raised by the employee, which made it harder for the employee to do their job properly — for example, bullying, harassment, health and safety issues, or inappropriate behaviour
  • withdrew work or did not give work to the employee
  • demoted the employee into a lower paid job
  • unlawfully suspended the employee without pay
  • transferred the employee to another location without consultation
  • gave the employee an unjustified warning.

In some instances, an employee might raise a concern about an unjustifiable disadvantage and, if this is not dealt with to their satisfaction, they may feel that they have no choice but to resign.

This could lead to them bringing an action against their employer for constructive dismissal.

Constructive dismissal

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