Tips to deal with common problems experienced by a Contact Officer
Problem 1: How can I protect a Complainant’s confidentiality when I have to keep records?
Keep your records very basic and anonymous, so that they don’t identify a complainant or respondent.
What should a record contain?
- Date of contact;
- Nature of allegation or problem;
- Information given;
- If appropriate, details of any follow-up action undertaken; and
Remember – no names, no identifying data
Problem 2: What if a senior manager comes to me wanting to know whether a particular person has seen me about a possible complaint?
Remind the manager that all EEO communications with you in your role as Contact Officer are confidential and that she or he is not permitted under company policy to ask you that question
That’s all very well, but the manager can make life difficult for me
If that happens, make a complaint under the company’s grievance procedure. You are entitled to expect company support in your role.
Problem 3: I don’t know whether the conduct complained about really happened / happened in a way described / was or was not provoked in some way by the Complainant.
You don’t need to know.
Just listen to the complainant. Take down the details without identifying the parties. Try to separate the issues out.
Do there seem to be issues that fit within the EEO policy parameters?
- If yes, inform the complainant of their rights and options.
- If no, inform the Complainant of your opinion. If appropriate, say you will seek further advice and get back to the complainant.
Make sure you do. Note the advice you receive and the source of advice. Note the information you give to the Complainant. If still no, inform the Complainant of any options.
Afterwards, reflect on the contact. Did it indicate the existence of a workplace problem, which could have liability implications for the employer? If yes, raise in an appropriate forum, while maintaining the confidentiality of the Complainant and any other person named.
Problem 4: What if I think it is a “vexatious” complaint?
Clarify what you mean by vexatious
- Do you mean the Compliant is genuinely aggrieved but mistaken in thinking that there is an issues of unlawful discrimination?
- Do you mean that the Compliant is using the process for an improper purpose? for example, as an act of revengem to obtain a personal benefit or because the person likes to complain all the time?
- Do you mean something else? If yes, you need to work out in simple precisely what you mean, and address that issue.
It is only the situation in B which is correctly described as vexatious. A Contact Officer can deal with this possibility by explaining carefully the checks and balances that an investigation involves, including the provision of “natural justice” to all parties.An A situation is dealt with by providing the aggrieved person with information. Ultimately, the Contact Officer does not make a determination as to whether or not the matter is covered by legislation.
Natural Justice basically means that the process must be fair to the Respondent as well as the Complainant. In practice, this means that the Respondent must know what is alleged against him or her and must have a proper opportunity to answer any allegations. It also means that any investigation must not be biased or have the appearance of bias.
The Contact Officer needs to know about natural justice in order to inform the Complainant. However, the Contact Officer does not have to apply natural justice because the Contact Officer does not investigate or make decisions. A Contact Officer must not go beyond the boundaries of their role.