When an employee complaint alleging workplace discrimination or harassment is lodged, it is usually seen as a negative moment in the life of the organisation.
However, it is possible for an employer to view this as a positive phenomenon, rather than a sign of complete failure. This is because well-handled complaints can illuminate hidden corporate weaknesses, as well as any lurking issues affecting staff morale or motivation. Such information can become a valuable catalyst for positive change across the broader business - a win-win for internal and external stakeholders alike.
Best-practice in complaints handling is dependent upon a structured complaints process that includes two key ingredients: the quality of investigation process and the structure of the complaints process itself.
1. A thorough high-quality workplace investigation is an essential tool in the management of internal complaints, including allegations of discrimination and harassment.
2. The structural framework of internal complaints policies and procedures will necessarily be clear, accessible and well-publicised. A well-managed complaint can be a good news story not only for the people involved, but for the broader success of the business.
When an employee complains that they have been the subject of discrimination or harassment, it is highly likely that there will be differing opinions and perspectives as to whether or not this is actually the case.
As a result, best-practice workplace investigation requires fair, open and even-handed treatment of all who are involved in the investigative process. Further, it is important for investigators to move at a reasonable and logical pace, first making preliminary enquiries before deciding on any next steps.
But what does a good investigation mean on the ground? One key concept is procedural fairness. This means that parties involved are equally able to access the process, to be heard in a substantive way and to be given a fair opportunity to understand and respond adequately to any claims made against them. Under procedural fairness parties have the right to an impartial decision-maker and to having a support person present during their interview. Professional investigators must be seen to be unbiased in every phase of the workplace investigation.
Added to this, a high-quality workplace investigation will ensure that all relevant and reliable evidence has been carefully obtained, anaylsed and included appropriately in the final report. There can be no room for short cuts or preferential treatment in workplace investigations.
Employers, investigators, complainants and witnesses alike should ideally all have access to a durable set of internal policies and procedures covering common areas of complaint.
A strong policy document detailing how and to whom to make a complaint should be accessible, user-friendly and up-to-date. The policy should also direct the reader to one or more procedures that need to be followed in the event that an alleged instance of harassment or discrimination has occurred. This is often a time of great stress, and instructions to complainants should be clear and helpful.
Internal policies and procedures that are complicated, badly written or tucked away in a dusty filing cabinet are of little-to-no assistance to the individual seeking to make a complaint.
This is why good investigations and good complaints policies go hand-in-hand: even the best investigator will struggle to keep things fair if complaints policies are convoluted or absent, or if procedures leading up to the investigation are sub-optimal.
Perhaps most importantly, managers and employees should be trained in practically accessing and using these documents, at all stages being assured that complaints are taken seriously and are indeed welcomed by the organisation.
A sound complaints process begins with employees first being made aware of a useable and fair pathway for their grievance. A good internal complaints system will work step-by-step through a logical process. This means initially providing clear and succinct information on the nature of common complaints, some definitions where appropriate, the bigger picture of the complaints process and - perhaps most importantly - who to speak with in the first instance about the particular concern.
An internal complaint is a golden opportunity for employers to gain important information about people and workplaces. For this reason, the internal complaints system should be presented in a simple, cordial and helpful format.
Problems arise every day that require the existence of an effective complaints and investigations pathway. Thankfully many complaints can be quickly and easily resolved. However, if you need to undertake investigations or a review of your HR policies, and want to ensure you are conducting it with best practice, our training is developed by investigators for investigators. Contact WISE today to find out more.
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