Even with the most careful safety planning in place, workplace complaints and litigation are inevitable. Reacting to workplace complaints can cause stress, distract from work and use up valuable time and resources. If you run a business, dealing with conflict in the workplace in the right way can minimize the burden on you, your business and your employees. Here are seven ways to deal with workplace complaints and litigation:
1. DO – Have a procedure to report complaints
Employees should know how to make a complaint. Ignoring complaints doesn’t make them go away. As the employer, the best way to respond to workplace complaints is to investigate them and respond to them appropriately. When you receive a workplace complaint, you should ask questions. You need to know what happened, when it happened and how it happened. You can rephrase a statement and ask if you’re understanding things correctly. Be sure to identify witnesses in order to ask them what they observed.
2. DO – Ask for a written statement
It’s important to ask for a statement in writing when you receive a workplace complaint. Written statements are important to give you the information that you need to investigate the complaint. In addition, a written statement ensures that the complaining person doesn’t change their version of the incident later or claim that they reported information that they didn’t report. A statement in writing also creates a timeline by making it clear when the complaining party makes the report.
3. DON’T – Lead the investigation
When you receive names of witnesses, you should follow up to gather more information. It’s important to ensure that the investigation is unbiased. When you speak with witnesses, don’t ask leading questions. Make sure that your questions are open-ended so that you witnesses can say what happened using their own words. As you investigate, it’s important not to make assumptions. While it might seem like it’s obvious what happened, one witness statement or one piece of evidence might be critical to shedding light on the truth.
4. DON’T – Talk about the incident outside of the investigation
A workplace complaint can be stressful. It can be tempting to talk about the investigation with coworkers. However, you should only talk about the complaint with your supervisors and others who are responsible for investigating the complaint.
If you’re the one investigating the complaint, you’re a representative of your company. What you say about the investigation may be admissible if the matter goes to a hearing or to formal court proceedings as an opposing party’s statement. An opposing party’s statement or statement of a party opponent just means that it’s something you say as a representative of the company.
You can work with an experienced employment lawyer in order to determine what to say about the investigation. The best employment lawyers not only help you understand the law but also work with you in order to handle statements and the official response to the complaint appropriately. An employment lawyer can help you handle all aspects of responding to the complaint including making statements about the investigation.
5. DO – Fix problems immediately
When a problem occurs in the workplace, it can be tempting to assume it’s not a good strategy to fix the problem right away. You might think that it’s against the interests of the company to clean up a spill, use additional safety equipment, install grip strips or take any other measures to prevent a similar accident. However, in almost all cases, it’s a good idea to take necessary measures as soon as possible to prevent similar accidents from occurring. Taking steps to prevent additional incidents is called taking subsequent remedial measures. Under most state laws, the injured party can’t point to remedial actions as evidence of wrongdoing.
For example, if a slip and fall accident occurs on a stairway, you may want to install a hand railing. You can install the hand railing without it being used against you in litigation for the original complaint. The fact that you install the hand railing after the fall occurs is not admissible as evidence that the business was negligent not to have the hand railing in the first place. You don’t have to wait until the slip and fall case is investigated or resolved. Most state court evidence rules don’t allow the other party to admit evidence of subsequent remedial measures as proof of negligence.
6. DON’T – Retaliate against the complainer
It can be tempting to respond to a workplace complaint or litigation by firing the complainer. You may even want to give the complaining person the cold shoulder. However, it’s a big mistake to retaliate against an employee in any way for making a complaint. If you retaliate, you face additional liability. All states have laws that prohibit retaliation against someone for making a complaint about workplace discrimination, harassment or wage disputes. Even if the business has some liability for the initial complaint, you make things much worse by retaliating against the person who files the complaint.
7. DO – Remember that the investigation matters
Most employees struggle with making a workplace complaint. While you may want to downplay the events or resolve them as quickly as possible, remember that the complaint is important to the employee that makes it. The employee took the steps to make a complaint, and they want to feel heard. It’s important to resolve the complaint fairly and equitably. If you simply ignore the complaint or downplay it, you may make litigation more likely to occur.
How to manage workplace complaints and litigation
Any time that you work with employees, you may have complaints. When you receive a complaint, it’s important to take it seriously. You should investigate the complaint thoroughly. Identify witnesses and gather written statements without leading the investigation. Although you are welcome to take remedial measures to prevent additional incidents, it’s important not to fire the employee who complains or retaliate against them for making the report. An attorney for employee complaints and litigation can help you make the appropriate statements and take the right steps when you receive a report.