Raising a complaint in the workplace

The Services Union surveyed our members at the end of 2021 and raising a complaint in the workplace was identified as a major issue. As part of our commitment to our 30th Way – Mental Health and Wellbeing Campaign we are looking to support members as much as we can. 

We are committed to providing our members with the latest workplace resources to navigate your rights and entitlements as an employee. This resource is a handy guide to assist you with raising a complaint in the workplace.

Raising a complaint

Raising a complaint under any circumstance is a daunting task. Where an employee needs to make a complaint in the workplace, a number of thoughts immediately spring to mind:

  • How do I proceed?
  • Who do I complain to?
  • Will I be believed?
  • Do I have grounds to raise a complaint?
  • Will my complaint be successful?
  • Will I be penalised for raising a complaint?
  • What impact will it make on my career and my relationships with my employer and colleagues?
  • What will happen next?
  • Will my job be safe?

All of these thoughts are perfectly understandable and natural. Here we will talk you through the process in general terms. We address the process and the steps to follow, along with your options, the risks and potential outcomes. Fundamentally, if something at work is causing you distress or it is making you feel uncomfortable, you need to take action. Ignoring the situation is unhelpful and, in some cases, may be construed as ‘condoning’ the unacceptable behaviour.

Importance of Keeping a Diary

First and foremost, start to keep a diary or written log of the issues that are upsetting you. The information you keep in your diary may become very useful at some point in the future. Being able to recount facts, times, dates and names of witnesses for example will give you credibility over others who conveniently, forget detail.

While collating data, don’t be tempted to remove documents from your employer’s system that might contain sensitive information.

Step 1: Become familiar with the process.

If you have a mind to raise a formal grievance (complaint), you should consider all your options very carefully. Your first point of call should be to find if your employer has a grievance or complaints handling policy. If so, read through that and familiarise yourself with that policy.

Bullying at work occurs when:

an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards —

(i) the employee; or

(ii) a group of employees of which the employee is a member; and

(b) that behaviour creates a risk to the health and safety of the employee.

* Excludes reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.

Step 2: Put your complaint in writing.

The next step is to set out your concerns, in writing and in accordance with your employer’s grievance and complaint handling policy (if they have one).

You can use The Services Union’s Bullying Log of Events and Evidence template to detail each event of bullying succinctly and where relevant outline what evidence is available (e.g. emails, witnesses etc.).

Your complaint should indicate that you would like to resolve matters amicably. You might like to also include some suggestions as to how the grievance might be resolved.  Your complaint is much more likely to succeed if you remain professional and flexible throughout the process.

Step 3: Investigation

On receipt of a formal complaint or grievance your employer is required to conduct an investigation. Your complaint should be investigated by someone that is independent and not implicated in the complaint. Where possible, you might like to request an independent third-party investigator.

You should outline to the investigator all of the relevant material. The more evidence you supply to support your claim the better.

You might like to bring a support person with you to this investigation meeting. Click here  to read about the role of a support person.

Step 4: Outcome

Your employer should issue you with an outcome of your grievance as soon as is reasonably practicable. If your complaint is not handled in a reasonable timeframe you should contact our Union to discuss your next options.

Generally, each allegation you make will receive one of three responses

  • Substantiated (proven)
  • Partially substantiated (only partially proven); or
  • Unsubstantiated (not proven)

While you will be advised of the outcome of the investigation, you might not always be privy to the outcome or action that is taken against another employee.

If you are unhappy with the outcome or the behaviour continues in the workplace even after the investigation you should contact Services connect on 07 3844 5300 for further advice.