What to Do When an Employee Files a Complaint

What to Do When an Employee Files a Complaint - employee complaints binder on a desk

It can be stressful and scary trying to figure out what to do when an employee files a complaint. But it doesn’t have to be.

First of all, just take a deep breath. An employee complaint needs to be taken seriously, and you need to take the appropriate action in handling it, but you don’t have to do it alone. Help is available if you need it.

How you handle an employee complaint depends on what kind of complaint it is. Is it an informal complaint that the employee is filing with their supervisor or manager? Or is it a formal complaint filed with an outside regulatory entity like the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC)?

Either way, we encourage you to handle the complaint in a way that de-escalates the situation whenever possible.

Informal/In-house Complaints

If the employee complaint is about things like temperature of the office, job duties, work hours, a co-worker’s hygiene, etc. you may be able to handle it without getting legal counsel involved.

In this case, let the employee tell you as much as they want to about the situation. Listen without interrupting and without judging or trying to solve the problem at this point.

Once you have a full understanding of their side of the issue, then you can investigate the matter more fully and take the next indicated steps to fix it.

Formal/Legal Complaints

If the employee complaint is legal in nature — such as an allegation of discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, retaliation, or any other employment law — your first step still is to listen to get a full understanding of the situation.

The next step is to get legal counsel for help in de-escalating the situation if possible, mitigating any further risk, and ensuring legal compliance with how you handle the situation.

Formal complaints generally require formal workplace investigations, which, under California law, must be performed by a trained company employee, an attorney, or a licensed private investigator.

Written Complaint Procedure

It’s a good idea to have your employee complaint procedure outlined in your Employee Handbook. This helps both the employee and the person tasked with handling the complaint — whether that’s a supervisor, manager, or you — know what to expect and guides them in taking the appropriate action.

We’re Here to Help

It’s important to take all employee complaints seriously and handle them appropriately. Most people find it helpful to have an HR Consultant/Lawyer on their side to help them navigate all the legalities.

Contact us today for a free consultation and get help understanding your legal responsibilities in handling employee complaints. And if you need to conduct a formal workplace investigation, we can do that, too.