An organisation’s complaints handling framework needs to be accessible, impartial and safe.


An organisation’s complaints handling systems must not only provide a logical and lawful pathway to resolve complaints, but also a framework that is accessible, impartial and safe.

Managers play a crucial role; they need to create an open environment that encourages complaints. Once a complaint has been made, the manager has a role to play to ensure it is managed fairly.

Failed complaints handling processes can have a devastating impact on staff well-being, team and individual engagement as well as employer brand.

“The ultimate financial cost can be significant, either through fines, penalties and damages ordered by courts and tribunals. Other, broader costs to the business include high staff turnover, increase absenteeism, low morale and loss of productivity,” says Stephen Bell, Managing Director.

What a manager needs to know about complaints handling

According to John Boardman, Head of Workplace Relations, there are several key elements of an organisation’s approach to handling, discrimination, harassment and bullying complaints that every manager must be well versed in:

  • The standards of behaviour that are expected under the organisation’s workplace conduct policies.
  • The need to handle complaints objectively; without bias.
  • The principle that Knowing that confidentiality is a critical consideration when handling a complaint.
  • Understanding that serious complaints can and should always be discussed and advice sought before management action is taken. This can be with an appropriate senior manager, a member of the human resource team or legal counsel.
  • Formal and informal options (as stated in the organisation’s discrimination, harassment and bullying policy) that are available to appropriately handle staff complaints.
  • Undertaking some form of triage or preliminary assessment and document decisions taken when determining how best to deal with the complaint or concern.
  • The principle that the organisation is responsible for handling a complaint appropriately (unless the complainant makes the complaint to an external party; but even external involvement does not absolve an employer from its own obligations).
  • The dimensions, boundaries and authority of the manager’s role in the complaints handling process.

Actions to lower the risk of handling complaints poorly 

It is obvious that regular and thorough training of managers is essential to reducing the risk of complaint handling failures. The training must contain a clear outline of the organisation’s complaints handling process and examples of how it may be used.

One key element of risk management that is often neglected, is regular review of the complaints handling process itself.

Analysing whether the process is workable in the context of the organisation’s current mode of operation is critical. For example, changes to hybrid work models since COVID provides a perfect example of a trigger to review processes as to how the organisation handles complaints.

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