Five Steps to Handling Employee Complaints

employee complaint

Employee complaints or disputes will happen, almost as a fact-of- life.  They may range from minor issues such as, “Why can’t we wear jeans to work?” to significant issues such as, “My boss is demeaning me in front of my peers.”  Every employee complaint is worthy of management’s careful listening, understanding and offering a fair and impartial answer to the employee.  Not every employee complaint or dispute can nor should be fixed.  In the example of “Why can’t we wear jeans to work?” the answer may simply be that the company has customers in the building on a frequent basis and the company wants to project a professional image at all times.  Perhaps a compromise can be made that Friday’s are “Wear jeans to work day.”  There doesn’t have to be a compromise, but the point is that every employee complaint deserves to be heard, considered and answered.

Sometimes repeated common complaints such as “the break room is too hot” may be ignored with one complaint; but after numerous complaints, it tells management that employees are genuinely upset about it.  Even minor issues can become big if ignored long enough.  They can negatively impact employee morale, productivity and culture.  No employer wants their employees speaking poorly of the company outside of work, or more frequently the case today, on social media.  Even the smallest things can be blown out of proportion on social media and social media greatly affects how prospective employees perceive a company.  If the current employees are not happy, why would they want to work there?

When an employee has a complaint, good practice is to do the following:

  • Listen! – Make sure that the employee’s complaint is heard. Sometimes just having someone hear their complaint is enough to appease the situation.
  • Investigate – Make sure that all of the facts in the situation are uncovered. Sometimes the facts may be easily obtained from direct observation (in the case of the break room that is too hot) or others must be consulted.  Generally speaking, it is good to let employees know when others will be consulted.  In cases such as sexual harassment, individuals may not want management to talk to others about the situation, however, for employers to have an issue come to their attention that is illegal obligates them to investigate.  In matters where there could be legal implications, it is strongly recommend to consult with company counsel as early in the process as possible.
    • Gathering facts may involve collecting data and policies or interviewing others. When interviewing individuals, it is important that the person doing the interviewing is non-biased, thorough and capable and willing   to testify in court if necessary.  An individual should never conduct an investigation on something that impacts themselves personally.
  • Resolve – In simple cases, issues may be able to be resolved by one person, but in more complex situations, it is wise to bring in other company experts or legal counsel to ensure that all sides of the matter are considered.
  • Communicate – Closed loop feedback is always important. The person who raised the complaint or dispute should be given an answer.  Depending on the seriousness of the situation, the response may be given verbally or in writing.  If, in the situation of sexual harassment or reporting an employee who is doing something against the law or against policy, the company must balance protecting the rights of all individuals involved in the dispute.  For instance, if the manager of someone who was sexually harassed is being reprimanded, management must balance the privacy of both parties.  It may have to be sufficient to communicate that the issue has been resolved and that the employee should let management know if any future incidents take place.  The individual raising the complaint does not need to know the details of how the manager is reprimanded.
  • Implement – Changes should be implemented, considering what needs to happen and how.  Does the decision rendered require a new or changed policy?  Does it require disciplinary action?

These five basic steps are core to compliant and dispute resolution.  Treating individuals fairly and respectfully throughout the process is important.  There will always be some individuals who complain simply because they can, but in all situations management should consider these five steps to a successful resolution.




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