There are many reasons why an employee might raise a complaint. Perhaps they feel that they are being treated unfairly by their colleagues or management. They may feel that they are being bullied, harassed, or discriminated against. They might have a complaint about their working conditions or terms of employment. Perhaps they have witnessed something happen to a fellow employee and wish to raise a concern on their behalf. Perhaps they are unhappy with the office temperature, or that somebody is cooking fish in the microwave and the whole office stinks!
No workplace is immune from complaints.
Thankfully, most issues can be resolved informally, through a conversation with the person or people involved or with an employee’s line manager, which is often the preferred option.
Some issues may prove harder to resolve and can lead to an employee making a formal complaint (a complaint made in writing), which the organisation must address. However, whether a complaint is resolved formally or informally, both routes require a high level of understanding of the application of procedure and must be handled with sensitivity and tact.
With early diagnosis, HR teams can quickly determine if the complaint can be resolved informally or requires a formal resolution.
Our latest survey also shows that almost a quarter of respondents would not be confident in managing a grievance or disciplinary procedure.
With the complexity of these issues and the lack of expertise in many HR teams, we want to help.
Here are our top tips for managing workplace complaints!
Know what you’re dealing with – make sure you take it seriously!
In most cases, routine complaints can be resolved on an informal basis without being moved to a formal procedure.
In other cases, the employee may raise a formal complaint invoking a specific procedure, if the issue has not been resolved through the initial informal discussions.
For example, if an employee has complained that their colleague continually cooked fish in the microwave and their manager has done nothing, they may then take things further and invoke the grievance procedure. It may seem trivial, however, complaints like this often escalate. So, what do you do then?
For these cases, the Code of Practice on Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures contains general guidelines on the application of grievance and disciplinary procedures and the promotion of best practice in giving effect to such procedures.
As the code of practice states; “While arrangements for handling discipline and grievance issues vary considerably from employment to employment depending on a wide variety of factors including the terms of contracts of employment, locally agreed procedures, industry agreements and whether trade unions are recognised for bargaining purposes, the principles and procedures of this Code of Practice should apply unless alternative agreed procedures exist in the workplace which conform to its general provisions for dealing with grievance and disciplinary issues.”
While the company’s internal grievance procedure should be written in line with the code of practice on grievance and disciplinary procedures, it is then the company’s internal procedure that needs to be followed.
What constitutes a workplace investigation?
Many a HR person would laugh at the prospect of an investigation surrounding seemingly trivial incidents, but in our experience, if not handled correctly in the first instance, they can escalate out of control and damage workplace relationships.
It is important when confronted with any issue or a complaint that the employer quickly assesses the situation to decide whether a formal investigation is necessary or not. Not every complaint or incident requires a formal investigation. It is, however, important to be aware that there are risks in incorrectly deciding not to investigate a matter.
A formal workplace investigation may be necessary when:
- An employee complains of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment at work and the issue(s) cannot be resolved informally or through mediation.
- An employee raises a grievance that cannot be resolved through the normal stages of the grievance procedure.
- An employee raises a serious concern under the Protected Disclosures Act (2014).
Failure to act promptly or adequately when you receive such a complaint can easily escalate into litigation which will likely be costly and damage the reputation of your business. Acting promptly is strongly advised. Depending on the nature of the complaint, this may mean launching a workplace investigation.
Know that prevention is better than cure – how can we reduce complaints?
As we know, no organisation is immune from possibly having to deal with a workplace complaint. While a combination of positive workplace culture and highly engaged staff reduces the chances of complaints and grievances, no workplace is perfect.
In this regard, it is important for all organisations to provide an environment where complaints can be raised safely, confidentially, and without judgement.
Communicating your policies to your employees and providing additional communication and training to line managers on these policies is imperative, as more often than not, complaints will primarily be communicated between employees and line managers in the first instance.
Your policy and procedure must also explicitly showcase the channels available for employees who do have an issue, and guidance on how best to proceed. Protections for the employee (such as reference to penalisation in The Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2022) must also be outlined, to ensure that the employee does not feel discouraged or fearful or, at worst, penalised for raising a complaint to the organisation.
And of course, there is certainly an element of ‘learning from your mistakes’ when it comes to certain complaints, whether this be through the nature of the complaint resting on the actions or inaction of the organisation, or whether it is through the actions of a specific employee and how your HR and leadership teams must discourage certain behaviours.
Although this has not been the case in some public cases, it is good practice for organisations to post-analyse, and take steps to prevent lightning from striking twice in the same spot!
Know when to get help – what are the benefits of hiring external support?
While some workplace complaints may be minor and get resolved quite easily, others can prove trickier. Bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, protected disclosures and grievances are all highly sensitive issues. Mismanagement, or failure to resolve the complaint efficiently, can have a negative impact on the entire workforce.
When things get tricky, and a simple issue suddenly requires a formal investigation, using a third-party, independent provider such as Insight HR will ensure objectivity, impartiality and reduce the stress and burden you face. From the moment we engage with you, we completely immerse ourselves in the facts of the complaint. This means we thoroughly review all the facts, advise on the best course of action, guide you through the entire process and, if needed, conduct a high-quality investigation which may be used as proof of following due process.
An hour of support from your HR provider or an employment law solicitor at the outset, can save you time, money, and a lot of stress!
Where can I go for help?
At Insight HR, we have decades of experience in helping leading Irish businesses resolve workplace issues. Working with such a wide variety of clients means that we have gained a huge amount of experience in resolving all kinds of issues. Engaging with Insight HR next time your business faces a workplace issue means that the case will be dealt with effectively and efficiently.
To find out more about workplace complaints or to talk to one of our consultants in confidence call us on 056 770 1060 or email email@example.com.
For further guidance why not register for our next free HR Room Webinar – Managing Workplace Complaints, to get live interactive guidance from the experts. Save your spot here!