Handling Employees' Complaints

Whatever the type of dispute or complaint resolution procedure - either an informal procedure or a case-by-case approach - it should:

  • resolve disputes in a timely manner
  • provide a binding resolution
  • involve those who must live with the decision
  • be externally defensible, in case the decision is subsequently challenged
  • be perceived as being fair overall

If employees feel that they are being treated with respect and fairness, they are more likely to accept the resolution you suggest, even if it is not exactly what they wanted or expected.

Be sure to treat all complaints seriously:

  • Make sure that you understand the problem. Allow the employee to talk without interruption.
  • Ask questions until you have a clear understanding of the facts. If the employee discusses the problem in generalities, probe for specific facts.
  • Ask the employee what he or she would like to see in the way of a resolution. If the employee wants another employee fired over a minor problem, there may be more to the employee's anger than meets the eye.
  • Remain calm and in control; do not lose your temper or become accusatory.
  • Establish a record by taking notes. This will also assure the employee that you are taking the matter seriously. You may want to have the employee write down the complaint, as well. This can be part of the formal documentation.
  • Repeat the complaint. This will ensure that you and the employee agree on the facts and the issues.
  • Don't make a decision until you have obtained all the facts. If you must talk to others, explain that to the employee. Also explain that you cannot act on a complaint until you have the other party's side of the story. It is better to postpone a decision than to make one that you would regret or reverse later.
  • Check to see if any of the business's other policies (if there are any) address the problem. Have there been other similar cases? How were they handled in the past?
  • Consider the source and gather information about the complaining employee. The more you know about the employee, the easier it will be to handle the complaint.
  • Advise the employee of the decisions as soon as possible. Determine the most appropriate time and place to meet with the employee.
  • If the employee's complaint is without merit, explain it to the employee in a pleasant, low-key manner.
  • If the complaint is sound, thank the employee for calling it to your attention so that you can resolve it.
  • Follow through with corrective action as soon as possible. Delay may result in other problems.
  • Check back with the employee after taking action in order to determine if the issue has been completely resolved to his or her satisfaction.