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Formal complaints

Formal procedures are for substantiating a complaint with evidence, or at least bringing the staff involved together to try to reach a satisfactory outcome for all.

Formal action is usually appropriate when:

  • the person complaining wants to do it formally
  • informal attempts have failed
  • the allegations are serious
  • discipline is a possible outcome if the allegations are substantiated
  • the allegations are denied and the person complaining wants to try to substantiate them
  • the person complaining has been victimised for complaining
  • the complaint is against a senior person and a formal procedure helps ensure the people involved are not disadvantaged.

Formal ways of dealing with complaints include: 

  • investigating the allegations
  • applying natural justice principles
  • finding whether the allegations happened or were likely to have happened
  • making a report and recommending an action
  • implementing an outcome.

In a formal procedure, document every step to ensure consistency and fairness. The usual steps are:

  • interview the person complaining and document the allegations 
  • inform the person being complained about of the details, and ask them to respond
  • if the facts are disputed, seek more information including evidence from any witnesses
  • find whether the complaint has substance
  • report the process, the evidence, the finding and recommend an outcome
  • implement the outcome or decide on other action.

The staff involved can have support people with them at any interviews or meetings.

Be impartial

It is important for anyone investigating or mediating a complaint not to jump to any conclusions but to hear both sides of the story.  This means being fair to both people involved in a complaint throughout the investigation.

The person the complaint is against must be:

  • given all the information about the complaint, including the name of the person making the complaint
  • given the opportunity to present their side of the story
  • told of their right to seek support (from their union, for example).

Considering evidence

There are often no witnesses to discrimination and harassment.  In dealing with a formal complaint, you may need to consider surrounding evidence such as:

  • supporting evidence from other staff, family or medical professionals