Handling Employee Complaints: What Every Manager Needs to Know

Minor issues can become expensive problems when supervisors incorrectly handle employee complaints. Access this video now and find out how you can halt lawsuits that result from botched complaint investigations. Your managers will learn:

  • The biggest mistakes they can make in a complaint interview
  • A three step model for conducting a complaint interview
  • What they should and shouldn’t do when responding to an employee complaint
  • What to do and say to properly end a complaint interview

Why are we giving you all of this for free? Because it’s the best way we know to introduce you to a new approach to employment law compliance training.

Here’s how it works: Request your video on handling employee complaints now and we’ll email you a user name and password that gives you instant access to the Employment Law Compliance & Human Resources Rapid Learning Centers. There you’ll find your training video on handling employee complaints and a collection of other training resources for managers, supervisors and HR professionals. You’ll have unlimited trial access to this powerful library of e-learning modules, reports and fast-read articles.

More information for those who love the details …

If you’ve been an HR pro for any length of time, workers have come into your office and said things like: “I’m being excluded from a key meeting because I’m a minority,” or “Molly’s perfume is making me ill,” or “I just received an email from Peter that’s full of sexual innuendo.”

To some, they seem like minor issues. YOU know they’re not, but do your supervisors? By law they’re formal employee complaints. In most cases, the initial employee complaints will be made to your first line managers and supervisors. If they mishandle them it could easily provoke a costly lawsuit.

Training your supervisors to handle the initial conversation with the employee plays a critical role in resolving complaints and preventing legal action. Managers and supervisors do not generally conduct full-blown complaint investigations. That’s usually a job for HR pro.

This video will show your supervisors how to correctly start the employee complaint investigation process the right way. Access this video now

The three worst mistakes a supervisor can make

The worst mistake a manager can make when handling an employee complaint is assuming the guilt or innocence of one party or another. She likes employee A and isn’t terribly fond of employee B. She probably believes that employee B has exaggerated her claim against employee A, or perhaps even provoked him. If she does get around to admonishing employee A, she won’t do it with any teeth and he’ll likely continue his bad behavior.

The second worst mistake a manager can make when handling a complaint is to not listen. Instead of probing with targeted questions to find out the real nature of the employee’s problem, the manager jumps to a conclusion and offers advice that is completely off base.

The third big mistake managers make when handling complaints is guaranteeing that the employee’s complaint will remain completely confidential. Yes, she can be discreet. But she can’t turn back the clock and pretend that the employee didn’t file a complaint. The minute the employee enters a manager’s office and reports a potential incident of sexual harassment, for example, the employee puts the company in a position where it has no choice but to follow through with a complaint investigation.

Any one of these complaint investigation mistakes would be a plaintiff lawyer’s dream-come-true if the case ended up in court.

Managers and supervisors must be trained so they understand that once an employee complains, the company must investigate the complaint to determine its merit. If the company knows about a problem and doesn’t conduct a serious investigation – which is what a plaintiff’s lawyer will try to establish – judges and juries assume the company tolerates illegal behavior and they show no mercy.

Make sure your managers and supervisors are prepared to deal with employee complaints.

A three-part model for employee complaint interviews

1. Clarify. Ask the employee to describe what happened. Follow up with clarifying questions as necessary. Example: “How many times did Eddie ask you out?” or “How many times did he glare at you?” or “When you say he ‘bumped’ you, what do you mean?” Persist with probing questions until you feel you REALLY understand what happened and how the person REALLY feels.

2. Listen non-judgmentally. Be careful not to signal that you have an opinion about what’s being said. Avoid comments like, “That doesn’t sound like the Eddie I know” or “Eddie’s harmless.” Be totally impartial. You’re just gathering information.

3. Factually document the conversation. If possible, ask in advance, “May I take notes while we speak?” You’ll normally get a yes. Take notes, recording just the facts, not your impressions of truth or falsehood. If you were to write down, “Beth sounds like she might be lying” or “Eddie is often misunderstood,” you might create a document that plaintiffs’ lawyers would use AGAINST you in court.

How a supervisor should wrap up a complaint interview:

  1. “Our company has a sexual harassment policy and we take complaints seriously. I appreciate your bringing this situation to my attention. HR will be in touch with you promptly to conduct an investigation. You should also know that you are protected from any retaliation for making this complaint.”
  2. Following the meeting, the manager should review her notes and fill in any missing factual details discussed during the employee complaint interview.
  3. Then she should take her memo to HR, which will follow up and conduct a full-blown employee complaint investigation.

Your managers and supervisors are the most likely to receive a formal complaint. They could trigger a lawsuit if they handle it wrong. Their role is limited but critical … conduct an interview with the person making the complaint the right way. Then, move it up to HR. Share this video with your team to be sure they have the correct training.

Access the video “Handling Employee Complaints: What Every Manager Needs to Know” Now.


Steve Meyer
Stephen Meyer
CEO, Rapid Learning Institute


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