How to handle a completely unfounded employee complaint

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Handling employee complaints is a large part of HR’s job but what happens when you’re absolutely convinced that their grievances are unfounded? It might not be as straight forward as you think, warns one leading employment lawyer.

“The problem with unfounded complaints is that, sometimes, you don’t know they’re unfounded until you’ve been through process – so you have to go through that process,” says Trevor Thomas, of Kent Employment Law.

Thomas suggests all employers have a written process in place that outlines exactly what is available to every employee in the event they decide to raise a grievance.

“Go through the process with that employee because you want to make sure that you’re addressing their concerns – not even from a legal perspective, just from a practical perspective,” he advises.

“If you’ve got employees that are concerned about something, you want to give them the opportunity to be heard because you want your employees to be happy.”

The Vancouver-based lawyer says it’s only at the end of the process that employers can determine – based on the evidence that they’ve gathered – how legitimate the complaint is.

“If it’s a legitimate complaint, figure out what to do next. If the complaint is completely unfounded, well in that situation you might want to talk to the employee and find out a bit about where this came from,” he told HRM.

“You’ll have the evidence from the process so you can zero in on the employee and say; “we discovered that there really is no evidence to back up your complaint, where is this coming from?’”

Depending on the motives of the employee, Thomas says there may be scope for employers to discipline workers for launching false complaints.

“Obviously, if it’s an innocent mistake, there’s no need to discipline there but if you may have an employee who has a hint of malice as to why they made this complaint – maybe they did it to get back at fellow colleague – then you might want to consider disciplining them,” he suggested.

“You want to let that employee know that, just like any other disciplinary issue, you discipline them because it’s something that shouldn’t happen and you don’t want it to happen in the future.”

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