Grievances

Your right to deal with employment concerns

Most employment concerns can be resolved informally. However, sometimes an informal attempt to resolve a problem is not enough to reach a solution that is acceptable to the employee. To address those situations, the Texas Constitution and the Texas Government Code grant all public employees the right to grieve. 

A grievance is a formal complaint about an employment issue that district employees can file with their district. A grievance is a means for employees to get the attention of their administration, to ensure that problems are noticed and to give their district a chance to resolve those problems.

The grievance process is an internal dispute resolution system that provides an employee with the opportunity to address a problem or concern by submitting a complaint and being heard by someone with the authority to resolve the complaint.

Filing a grievance is not the same as filing a lawsuit, and the process is very different. In most cases, however, a district employee must attempt to resolve a complaint internally, using the grievance process set out in district policy, prior to pursuing a lawsuit or an appeal to the commissioner of education. This requirement to grieve first is known as exhaustion of administrative remedies, and failure to exhaust administrative remedies may prevent the employee from being able to pursue an issue in court later. 

Most districts have established the grievance as the internal process for addressing the majority of employment disputes. Therefore, a district employee is usually required to first go through the local grievance process when attempting to resolve an employment problem. It is important to note that an informal complaint or meeting with a supervisor about a concern is generally not considered a grievance for the purpose of satisfying the exhaustion requirement. In order for an action to be considered a grievance, employees must, at least generally, comply with the formal process set out by their district in local policy.
A public employee can file a grievance over any condition of work. The issue may but does not have to involve a legal claim in order to be grievable.

Examples of grievable issues include but are not limited to:
  • Errors in pay
  • An undesired reassignment to a class or grade level
  • Receipt of a negative evaluation (e.g., a written reprimand, an appraisal, a growth plan, etc.)
  • Unprofessional behavior by a supervisor
  • Termination of the employment of an at-will employee.
In addition, an employee should not be retaliated against for exercising the right to file a grievance. If retaliation occurs, it could be the subject of an additional grievance.

An employee can only file a grievance about a situation that actually affects his employment.

For example: An employee would not be able to use the employee grievance process to complain as a parent or to complain about an issue that is affecting a colleague but not that employee.

However, depending on the circumstances, a group grievance may be possible when a particular problem does affect multiple employees in the same way.

Keep in mind that filing a grievance might not be the correct approach to resolving all employment-related problems. There might be other processes required for resolving specific types of issues. For instance, contract terminations, nonrenewals and discrimination claims are almost always handled under different processes. 
Every Texas public school district has a local policy, approved by its school board, providing employees with the right to grieve and specifying the process employees should follow in order to do so. The local policy is critically important because the district can generally “dismiss” a grievance that fails to follow the policy, and, as described above, this can result in a “failure to exhaust administrative remedies” which can result in waiving legal rights. 

Each district is required to make that policy available to its employees as well as the public under the Texas Public Information Act. A district’s local grievance policy is often included in the employee handbook and/or in other information given to employees when they are first hired. If the district has a website, their policies (including the local grievance policy) should also be available there. Many district websites include a link to their policies on their home page or on the page that provides information about the local school board. If necessary, employees should be able to obtain a copy of any district policy at their administration office. 

Representation

Employees are legally entitled to representation throughout the grievance process. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department at (800) 777-ATPE (2873) for advice and assistance.

Timeline for filing

The most important thing to keep in mind when thinking about grieving a particular issue is that there are almost always strict and mandatory deadlines included in the grievance policy. The timeline for an employee to file a grievance can be found in the district’s local grievance policy, along with how the district defines “days” for purposes of that timeline (e.g., calendar days or district business days).

In most districts, the grievance timeline is quite short. Typically a grievance must be submitted within 10 or 15 calendar or business days from the date the employee first knew or should have known of the problem about which the grievance is being filed. Verbal notice of an action, such as a reassignment or pay cut, is often sufficient to trigger a grievance timeline.

Usual steps/levels

Along with timeline information, the grievance process for the district should also be outlined in detail in that district’s local grievance policy. Grievance policies commonly require employees to submit grievances in writing to a certain administrator within the specified timeline using a form provided by the district.

Most district policies provide for a three-level grievance process after a grievance is submitted:
  • The first level is a conference with the employee’s principal or immediate supervisor at which the employee or representative presents the grievance. The policy will also generally state a specific timeline for the supervisor to respond. If there is no response within that timeline, or if the employee is not satisfied with the response, he may then appeal to level two of the process.
  • The second level is usually a conference with the superintendent or the superintendent’s designee. Again, if there is no response within the specified timeline, or if the employee is not satisfied with the response, he may appeal to level three of the process.
  • At the third level, the employee or representative presents his grievance to the school board.
It is important to note that the Texas Constitution and the Texas Government Code provide only that employees have the right to “present” the grievances. The only legal requirement is that someone with the authority to remedy the situation “stop, look and listen” or, actually listen and pay attention to the complaint. There is no actual legal requirement that there even be a response; however, many local district policies do require a response at each level.

A school board’s refusal to act on a grievance upholds the prior administration decision. A hearing before the local school board is the final step in any local grievance process. Depending on the issue, it might then be possible for the employee to appeal a school board decision to the commissioner of education for review or proceed to court.

Again, the process outlined above is common but not necessarily applicable in all districts. Employees should carefully review their district’s grievance policy each school year to find specific information about the process and to see if any changes have been made since the previous school year.

Conclusion of a grievance

A grievance is concluded if the employee is granted all of the relief requested at any stage of the process. If all requested relief is not granted, a grievance may be concluded if the employee completes the entire process or does not appeal the decision at any level within the required timeline. Finally, a grievance may be concluded if the claim is rendered moot at any stage of the process, meaning that the resolution would no longer be relevant to the party or parties involved.

It is important to note that an employee resigning or otherwise leaving employment with the district prior to completion of the grievance process does not automatically make an issue moot.

For example: An employee might claim that the district owes him money or an employee may be grieving a negative appraisal that could affect future job opportunities. In such cases, there is still a viable remedy that could be granted to the employee even after he/she has left the district. 




The legal information provided on this website is for general purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for individual legal advice or the provision of legal services. Accessing this information does not create an attorney-client relationship. Individual legal situations vary greatly and readers should consult directly with an attorney. Eligible ATPE members should contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department using our online contact form