Strategic Business Management Includes Revenue
Human Resources Professional

The Delicate Art of Managing Complainers

Complaints are a common part of work. In fact, some

employees rely on complaining as a routine form of

communication. If they aren't complaining, that can

mean there's something really wrong.

It presents a considerable challenge, however, for

supervisors to deal with complaints while at the same

time demanding good performance from their employees.

Hidden Dangers

One of the challenges in handling complaints is that

when a supervisor demands performance or imposes

discipline, the potential exists for a complaining

employee to assert that he's the target of


When discipline rises to the level of firing,

supervisors may come face to face with the realization

that employees may claim their discharge is in

retaliation for asserting a right that's consistent

with public policy. This often happens when employees

complain about such things as wages, staffing, or

safety, for example.

In a sense, employees who make complaints that can be

linked to a public policy put their supervisors in a

difficult position. How can a supervisor persuade the

employee, the

company, a court, or jurors that t he complaint wasn't

a factor when imposing discipline or demanding


It's a delicate situation to be sure, but there are

some things that you can do to help.

Steps to Take in Hearing Complaints

Typically, immediate supervisors are the first to hear

complaints, and they're the ones faced with the

responsibility of imposing standards of performance or

conduct. They're going to have to explain decisions

that ultimately might lead to the discharge of an

employee who had previously complained.

To take some of the burden off those supervisors, if

resources permit, assign the task of following up on

complaints that may be linked with public policy to

someone else within the company. That will allow the

supervisor to continue to focus on managing the

employee while the other person takes care of

investigating the complaint and ensuring that

appropriate follow-up has resulted.

Another step that can assist supervisors is to remind

them that they should hold the complaining employee to

the same standard of conduct and performance as

others; assure them that so long as they do that,

support from the company will be there. A supervisor

must be confident that the company won't undercut her

efforts because of fear that a complaining employee is

contemplating litigation.

The flip side of that coin is that the supervisor must

understand that there should be no relaxation of

standards for the complaining employee.

A third step that can help supervisors is to refresh

their training on documentation. Specifically, they

need to be told the following:

- Performance reviews and documentation of

disciplinary issues should be done thoroughly and

carefully. Comments should be as objective as

possible, and they should be supported by specific


- If a performance review calls for comments regarding

an employee's attitude, particular care must be taken.

Supervisors should avoid citing the fact that the

employee has complained as a basis for finding that

the employee has a poor attitude.

- The idea is to avoid singling out the complaining

employee for unequal treatment, so the supervisor

should be cautioned that any heightened attention she

gives to documentation should be applied to all

employees, not just the employee who complained.

There's still one more thing that can be done to deal

effectively with situations in which employees


Investigations and follow-ups should be done promptly,

and the complaining employee should be informed in

writing of the result.

That will accomplish two things for you:

(1) to the extent that the problem identified by the

employee in his complaint was a legitimate concern, it

can be dealt with, and

(2) prompt closure will tend to limit the span of time

in which an employee can effectively argue that his

firing is linked somehow to the complaint.

Bottom Line

These few basic steps can go a long way toward

limiting exposure to liability for employers faced

with the challenge of managing employees who complain

about protected issues.

By adopting these steps and thereby getting ahead of

the problem, you can avoid the dilemma of being unable

to enforce standards regarding poor performance

because of fear of liability. You will at the same

time significantly reduce the chances of ending up in

court defending a retaliatory discharge claim.

Source: M. Lee Smith Publishers LLC. This article is excerpted from *North Carolina Employment Law Letter.

Do preserve yourself & others while evolving continuously...

Special Thanks to TSK Raman

From India, Madras
Management should consider COMPLAINTS as SUGGESTIONS / INPUTS rather taking into NEGATIVE SENSE. Its similar to replacing the word "PROBLEM" with "CHALLENGE". When we learn to start perceiving PROBLEM as CHALLENGE, i am sure things will be different. Infact, Almighty drafted SOLUTION prior to defining a Problem. Therefore, every PROBLEMS comes with SOLUTION and every COMPLAINT RECEIVED/REGISTERED can help organisations to PERFORM BETTER only when it is PERCEIVED POSITIVELY.
Ask those who REGISTERED A COMPLAINT - TO PRESENT HIS/HER SOLUTION. This strategy can help us to eliminate FAKE COMPLAINTS which are BASELESS.
With profound regards

From India, Chennai
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