Formal Complaints

Formal Complaints


Formal procedures are for substantiating a complaint with evidence, or formally bringing the staff involved together to try to reach an agreement. 

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 out 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.


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
  • reports of changes in behaviour or performance
  • requests for transfers, shift changes or increased sick leave
  • complaints from other staff
  • records kept by the person complaining
  • consistency of the evidence presented by the people involved
  • no evidence where logically it should exist.

A formal complaint of discrimination or harassment should not be dismissed because no-one saw or heard the incident.