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).
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.