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Complaints From Employees & How To Deal With Them

Published July 05, 2019 (last updated February 9, 2023) - Face2Face Field Service Manager
An Employee Dealing With A Complaint At Her Restaurant

Managing complaints from employees

Managing complaints from employees is an integral part of being an employer. It is also something that most business owners struggle with.

Friction will inevitably occur, no matter what size or industry an enterprise falls within. But it is important to understand the politics of an employer-employee relationship. It requires:

  1. a delicate sense of diplomacy, and
  2. carefully divorcing oneself from all unproductive emotions

While relatively straightforward, putting this in practice can prove to be quite challenging. But having the right system in place will prevent addressing complaints from getting too arduous. All it takes is the discipline to follow the correct policies and procedures – and having those correct and clear policies/procedures in place to begin with.

Whether they are issues to do with pay, communication, workload, or anything else in between, the underlying approach to resolving employee grievances is reasonably universal. The following prescriptions are presented straight from the Employsure “Complaints from Employees & How to Deal with Them” Guide.

Employee complaint form

Employees who wish to lodge a complaint against their employers have a few options. The option that is often explored first involves going through the organisation’s human resources department.

In the event this does not yield a satisfactory outcome, and all other possible avenues have been exhausted, employees may request assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman.

You can access the Fair Work Ombudsman employee complaint form here.

Types of employee complaints

Due to the open interpretation of some employee complaints, it tends to exist more on a spectrum rather than a definitive list. Regardless, here are the ten most common types of employee complaints that occur in the workplace:

  • Sexual harassment
    Harassment characterised by being sexual in nature and likely to offend, humiliate or belittle, e.g. sexually charged jokes, gestures, comments, touching or unwanted advances.
  • Discriminatory harassment
    Harassment of an individual based on protected traits, characterised by intolerance and marginalising practices surrounding gender, race, age, religion, disability, and more.
  • Personal harassment (bullying)
    Repeated harassment of an individual based on non-protected traits for the purposes of isolating, alienating, belittling, humiliating, or intimidating.
  • Workplace violence
    Threats of or fulfilled by physical assault.
  • Communication
    Instances where communication is detrimentally affected such as failure or refusal to adequately communicate, or withholding important information.
  • Management
    Dissatisfaction with the way in which management handles staff as well as the wider organisation like micromanagement, favouritism, unfeasible benchmarks and objectives.
  • Hygiene
    Matters of cleanliness regarding an individual, individuals, or the working environment.
  • Underpayment
    When compensation is incorrect or too low in proportion to the labour undertaken.
  • Theft
    The act of obtaining one’s property without the necessary permission.
  • Retaliation
    The act of employers punishing employees for engaging in a legally protected activity such as acts of unwarranted disciplinary action, demotion, salary reduction, or termination (related: adverse actions).

The importance of documentation

As with the majority of sound workplace relations, documentation is a crucial part of correctly handling employee complaints and grievances. Documentation is evidence that issues were discussed properly, in addition to offering a timeline of how events unfolded. It also serves as a great point of reference should the case need to be examined closer or if legal action arises. At the end of the day, employers should view documentation as support for their decisions, especially when actions are unfavourable such as termination. 

How to document employee complaints

Keep a copy of all communications – verbal conversations, email threads, official complaint documents similar to the Fair Work Ombudsman’s work dispute form. This should also be organised in chronological order. It is advisable that communications are punctuated by summary statements agreed upon by all involved, potentially with signatures. This ensures everyone is on the same page every step of the way to protect from alternate facts and accusations.

The importance of policies in the workplace

While usually confrontational by nature, complaints from employees can be handled without escalation. As demonstrated above, obstacles can be broken down into processes, which can be further broken down into simple steps. All that is required is a strong foundation of workplace policies and procedures to provide clear guidance.

If you are unsure about anything – policy creation, employee standards, documentation, etc. – get in contact with a workplace relations specialist.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • How to deal with employee complaints about their supervisors?

    • Initiate contact

    Approach the affected parties separately for an overview on both sides of the situation. Understand the scale, scope, and severity of the issue at hand as to better prepare for the rest of the process.

    • Formally investigate the claim

    Interview each of the parties involved separately. Allow both sides to state their cases before comparing perspectives and exploring all aspects of the situation as to fully address the issue. No stone should be left unturned at this stage – remain open to all possibilities and motives.

    • Come to a resolution

    Invite all parties to offer suggestions on how a satisfactory outcome may be achieved. Not every instance will define a clear right and wrong side. In any case, the resolution should consider both perspectives, as well as aim to be restorative instead of punitive.

    • Check for efficacy

    To guarantee the matter has well and truly been resolved, check in after a predetermined time period to get a sense of the resolution’s general progress and social efficacy. There is no use going through all the steps if it does not work.

  • How to handle conflicts with employees?

    • Identify the conflict

    Locating the direct source of the conflict is the first crucial step to resolving conflict. Note there is a key difference between determining what occurred during a particular incident and the conflict’s true origins.

    • Open a dialogue between the relevant parties

    To identify the conflict, thorough questioning must be undertaken to fully examine both sides of the story. Allocate some time for everyone to state their case. Acknowledging the two unique perspectives of a conflict not only instils impartiality but encourages the parties to be more forthcoming about their contribution to the matter at hand.

    • Discuss interests and desires

    After gaining an insight into the cause of the conflict, the priority becomes discovering what each party wants from this process. How do they propose this to be achieved? How does this differ from the other party’s interests and desires? Why do they differ from the other party’s interests and desires?

    • Generate solutions

     Once a common goal has been established through the negotiations of all interest and desires, a definitive solution must be generated. If compromises are required, refer back to step two and encourage the parties to consider each other’s perspective.

    • Reach an agreement

     Reaching an agreement is not enough – consider how the agreement may feasibly and effectively be implemented, enforced, as well as how the results are measured. Invite reflection.

  • Can I write an official complaint letter for my employee?

    If you would like to make an official complaint about your employee this is documented in what is generally referred to as a written warning. This complaint/warning letter is provided after a discussion with the employee to obtain their response.

    When developing a written warning ensure the following is included:

    • Introduce the intent

     In the opening paragraph, the official complaint letter should introduce the intent and purposes of the letter. Make it clear that this is not communication for communication’s sake – this is an official warning that holds official implications.

    • Clearly identify the issue

    Identify the specific issue or issues at hand. This should be something that can be succinctly summarised in the span of no more than a few sentences. An excessive explanation may mean a case needs to be examined further before being brought to official action.

    • Detail instances relevant to the issue

    This step has everything to do with evidence collecting. An issue must be substantiated by evidence to warrant an outcome. Include as much detail as possible, from the date of occurrences, actions undertaken, to the implications explained, and eye-witness recounts.

    • Outline the necessary process going forward

    Put forward what needs to happen going forward in accordance with the existing policies and procedures. This means restorative measures, disciplinary measures, warnings related to the employee’s employment being at risk, etc.

    • Format correctly

    Official complaint letters should be formatted similarly to the following:















About Employsure

Employsure is Australia’s largest workplace relations specialists. We take the complexity out of workplace laws to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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