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.
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
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
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.
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 12th February 2013 From India, Madras