Most employers have experienced the stressful process of having to respond to employee complaints. Whether it is an allegation of discrimination or other unfair treatment, it takes a great deal of time and effort to respond to employee complaints, but it is a necessary exercise. If the employer fails to respond to a complaint, it paints a negative perception of the itself that portrays an attitude of not caring about employees’ well-being or not taking their concerns seriously.
Employers who take a proactive stance when addressing employee complaints typically fare much better than those who fail to do so. There are three (3) ways in which an employer can be proactive regarding employee complaints:
- Have an open door policy – Sometimes employees just need to vent, so taking the time to simply hear them out; offering some recommendations on how to address their concerns; and, letting them know that their concerns are taken seriously; can often make a difference in the next step that the employee takes.
- Establish an Employee Complaint Process – I recommend that an employer establish a tiered complaint response/review process that encourages open, respectful communications between all parties. This type of process will determine which organizational level addresses a complaint, based on the severity. It should also establish a timeline for closing out complaints. For example:
- If an employee’s complaint about not getting along with their manager or a co-worker (personality clashes) should be addressed through their respective chain of command.
- If their initial complaint is about the employee’s co-worker, they should take their concerns to their immediate manager or supervisor. If their initial complaint is about their manager or supervisor, they should be encouraged to try and have a conversation with that person to let them know how their actions make them feel. If they don’t feel comfortable doing that, they should take their complaint to the next level of their chain of command…their department director. If these efforts are unsuccessful, it may be time for the department director to inform the organization’s Human Resources Department so that they can implement some conflict resolution strategies including mediation, conciliation, and/or facilitation to try and resolve the issue(s) at hand.
- If the employee’s complaint involves any element of bullying, discrimination, harassment, Hostile Work Environment (HWE); retaliation, and/or workplace violence, it should immediately be referred to the organization’s Human Resources Department for proper handling which is imperative.
- Educate, Inform, and Train – A little communication can make an amazing positive difference.
- Employers should educate management on the proper manner to respond to employee complaints. New managers should attend a required management orientation program. This training should include descriptions of the different categories of employee complaints and offer guidance on the proper way to respond to each. Guidance should also be provided on the appropriate administration of the organization’s progressive corrective action process if/when inappropriate behavior needs to be addressed.
- Provide annual updates as well. These updates could be based on changes to the Laws, statutes, ordinances, etc. which govern how the organization addresses human resources issues. Updates could also be the result of the need to simply change the process for increased effectiveness and efficiency.
- Inform all employees of the existence of the organization’s policies and procedures; let them know where to find them all; and, have them sign an acknowledgement of receipt.
- Adhere to the process – One of the worst things that an employer can do is to fail to follow its own process. If an employee raises a concern, he or she should feel confident that they can go to someone in their organizational chain of command, or Human Resources, to discuss their concerns, and that their concerns will be addressed. They may not always get the outcome that they are seeking, but they know that they will be treated in a fair, objective manner.
- Hold management and Human Resources accountable – In order to maintain credibility and gain employees’ trust, both management and human resources should function with integrity. That means
- Maintain confidentiality – only discuss the matter with those who have a need to know about it;
- Do not treat the employee who brings the concern differently in any way than other staff are treated;
- Do not develop a preconceived determination based on past incidents, or before having all of the facts;
- Keep the Complainant (employee with complaint) reasonably updated regarding the status of their complaint;
- Conduct a close-out meeting with both the Complainant and Respondent (the person who the complaint is about); and,
- Adhere to your organization’s timeline for bringing the issue to resolution. If true mitigating circumstances arise, inform the Complainant so they know that their issue has not just been casually placed on the back-burner. Even if your organization does not currently have established complaint resolution time lines, acting quickly, with all necessary facts; but not impulsively, is important.
Remember, as an employer, you want your employees to feel confident in utilizing their organization’s internal complaint process. As much as possible, employers want to avoid having regulatory agencies coming into their organization and conducting on-site investigations. Taking these steps will definitely be an effort in the right direction.