Dealing with uncooperative complainants in workplace investigations

Workplace Investigations Uncooperative Complainants – at times during a workplace investigation you may have to deal with an uncooperative complainant, what should you do?

In my experience uncooperative complainants fall into 3 categories; (there may be more, but this is what I have encountered.)

  1. Complainants who are concerned and even fearful of the process and their part in the investigation.
  2. Complainants who know that their complaint is baseless and want action taken on their word only.
  3. Complainants who have made past complaints and feel that nothing was done.

In the case of the first category the best way to deal with this is to reassure the complainant, discuss their concerns but advise them that for you to be able to conduct a thorough investigation you need their assistance.  As an external investigator I will bring the concerns to my client so that the client can also reassure the complainant and may also provide them with EAP support.

I have on occasion encountered the second category. I recall a complainant refusing to provide me with any information to clarify his 4 page complaint.  The complaint was full of emotive language with very little substance in regard to the exact nature of the incidents complained about, when incidents occurred, what was actually said, how the alleged bullying actually manifested and if there were any witnesses present and if so who?

I had reviewed the written complaint and had many clarifying questions, however at the interview the complainant responded with “I have nothing further to say”, “There is no need for an investigation”, “She just needs to receive an official warning and be told to stop bullying me”.

In a case such this as before you should advise the complainant that for you to be able to conduct a thorough investigation you need their assistance and more details about their complaint.  If this fails you should advise that you will proceed with the investigation based on the information you have.  Remember of the the Complaint ownership theory

In the case I have mentioned despite limited details I was able to follow up on the complaint with a number of witlessness who all provided evidence contradictory the the complainants version. Information came to light during the investigation that the complainant was upset about missing out on a promotion given to the subject of his complaint. I did not find any of the complaints substantiated.

Notes of caution,

  1. You should not assume that uncooperative complainants automatically fit into category 2.
  2. Just because a complainant is uncooperative does not invalidate their complaint.
  3. You should not make assumptions about why a complainant is uncooperative with making further enquiries.

In the case of the third category, these complainants may have lost faith in the system.  If this is the case assure the complainant that regardless of what has happened in the past you are here now and you will investigate their complaint.  Advise them that the more information they can provide the better you can do you job.

In all three cases the key is patience, do not get frustrated and remember you can only work with the toll you are given, but you must do the best job possible in the circumstances.

Further note of caution; You should not dismiss a complaint solely on the basis that the complainant is uncooperative, further enquiries should be made.

Not sure what to do? – here are some options;

  1. Engage an external investigator to take the stress out of dealing with workplace complaints, AWPTI can assist – https://awpti.com.au/workplace-investigations/
  2. Undertake some investigation training – AWPTI conducts internal courses for your organisation at your venue at a time to suit you, details here – https://awpti.com.au/workplace-investigation-training/ contact us for details enquiries@awpti.com.au

    At times we also conduct pubic courses, contact us for details – enquiries@awpti.com.au

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