An employee and a boss discussing a formal complaint

How to Handle Formal Complaints With Care and Consideration

Regardless of how in-tune you are to your workforce, conflict can arise at any moment for many different reasons. Employee complaints are a serious matter and should be handled with care, consideration, professionalism, and an unbiased approach. That’s how smart business owners and leadership/management teams establish workplace morale, company culture, and a safe workplace environment for all.

With that being said, this article will offer tips on how to handle a formal employee complaint while breaking down the different types of complaints that often arise in an office setting.

Read More: Getting to the Root of Workplace Conflict and How to Proactively Avoid It

Types of Employee Complaints

The most common complaints that arise in the workplace include:

  • Harassment
  • Toxic work environment
  • Conflicts with co-workers
  • Discrimination
  • Pay disputes
  • Policy changes
  • Favouritism
  • Poor working conditions
  • Long hours/overtime
  • Lack of vacation and sick leave

Step 1 – Listen To The Complaint And Pay Attention To Details

Find out the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How

Sit down with the complainant and get them to tell you everything, including who is involved, how they’ve been affected, and how, when, and why the situation came about.

Get every detail, even if it seems minuscule. It’s always best to have more information than you actually need so you can best handle the situation and find an appropriate solution.

Step 2 – Receiving the Complaint

Ask Lots of Questions

Make sure to ask lots of questions so you can cover all your bases and get a thorough understanding of the situation at hand.

Get Something in Writing

When possible, try to keep a paper trail of all communications regarding the complaint.

Ask the Employee to Keep Their Complaint To Themselves

It’s no secret that gossip spreads like wildfire in an office setting. To keep your investigation as fair and unbiased as possible, let the complainant know that they must keep the matter to themselves. You must also do the same.

Advise the Employee That You’ll Look Into The Matter

After you have all the relevant info, make sure the employee knows that you appreciate them coming forward and are taking their complaint seriously. Let them know that you will be investigating the situation.

Actually Look Into It

Don’t just say that you will investigate the complaint and then sweep it under the rug. It’s crucial that you take action and conduct a thorough investigation into the employee’s complaint.

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Step 3 – Investigating the Complaint

Talk to Witnesses (If Applicable)

If other employees can attest to or refute the complainant’s claims, make sure that you speak with them to get all sides of the story.

Also make sure that when communicating with witnesses, that you share as few details as possible so that you are getting an accurate account.

Get Copies of All Relevant Documentation

If there is documentation that confirms the employee’s claims, make sure to gather all these relevant documents, and make copies for your investigation file.

Sort Through Evidence

Look for additional evidence that either backs up or refutes the employee’s complaint and add it to your file.

Follow-Up with The Individual Who Originally Made the Complaint

Once you’ve gathered all the relevant evidence and spoken to witnesses, meet with the complainant again to ask follow-up questions and gain clarification regarding certain details.

Discuss the Complaint and Investigation with a Supervisor

Present the evidence and the complainant’s account to your direct supervisor and decide together how you will be moving forward and what kind of solution is appropriate.

When to Hire A Mediator or Investigator

When the allegations are very serious and involve sensitive matter or you are simply unable to come to a resolution, hiring a third party – either a mediator or investigator – can help resolve the dispute in a way that is beneficial to all involved while protecting your organization from legal consequences.

Specific instances where a third party investigator can be a good option to handle formal complaints include:

  • Stakes are high for the organization
  • Individuals are highly-placed managers or high-profile executives within the organization
  •  Multiple complainants or respondents
  • Individuals are represented by counsel or a union
  • High likelihood of legal challenge
  • Lack of time and/or experienced resources

Mediation or investigative services can help resolve formal complaints by getting to the root of the issue, encouraging discussion, and empowering all parties to find and agree upon a solution and move forward. Working with a third party also demonstrates that you are taking the complaint seriously and are committed to conducting a fair, unbiased investigation.