What do you do if a complaint is made against you?
It is what we all dread: finding out that someone has made a complaint about you. Your integrity and professional status are under pressure. It can be stressful, even soul-destroying. What do you do?
If you’re lucky, an informal meeting between the parties concerned will end the matter. However, sometimes something seemingly trivial can turn into a full-blown grievance.
Thankfully, we have a range of expert advice to help you work through the process calmly and professionally.
Here are some essential tips to help you:
Don’t have a knee-jerk reaction. News that someone has made a complaint will come as a shock. Don’t react or even try to make any sense of it until you have been told exactly what it is about. Under no circumstances be tempted to resign.
Get the details. The investigator should give you full details of the complaint made against you and, if this had been made by letter, a copy of this too. The letter may have been edited as you are only entitled to see the parts that relate to you. If this information has not been provided, then make sure to ask for it.
Contact your union. They will advise you of the process and what to expect, and ask whether you would like them to accompany you to any meetings.
Remember that there is no legal right to be accompanied. Usually, you will be asked whether you would like to bring someone with you for moral support. If you are not a member of a union then a colleague may be able to accompany you instead.
Think back to the event. Is there the slightest chance that the complainant could be right? If so, talk to your union to decide what to do next. It may be the case that you could request an informal meeting to talk this through with the complainant with the intention of giving an apology.
Do not confront. Initial feelings will more than likely be that you will want to but do not take this action.
Take evidence. There is the possibility that this person may start to intimidate you and make comments while walking past you in the corridors. Do not retaliate. Take note of the date, time and place and inform the investigator as soon as possible.
Explain. If the complaint does proceed to the formal stage you should be given the opportunity to explain your version of events, include witnesses and any material evidence. Any meetings should be minuted and you are entitled to receive a copy of the minutes, which you can check and either approve or recommend amendments.
Don’t despair. If the complaint is upheld, stay positive. As difficult as this may seem, try not to let it interfere with your day-to-day duties. You will overcome it, take it in your stride, learn from it and develop strategies so that it can’t happen again. Time is a great healer and you will get your momentum back.
Be aware of appeals. If the complaint is unfounded, be aware that the complainant can appeal against the decision and the issue will not be finalised until the appeal has been concluded.
Dealing with such situations will invariably involve difficult conversations with your colleagues. If you are a member of Optimus Education you can check out our advice from consultant Edward Gildea which includes:
- Be supportive. Such conversations can get highly emotional. Dig down to deeper issues and try and build a shared value.
- Listen. Echo what has been said and use it as the kernel of your next question.
- Embrace the silence. Awkward silences are very common and not necessarily a bad thing. It will give them time to think and encourage them to talk.
We also have a detailed complaints procedure model policy and a whistleblowing model policy to help ensure that all staff (as well as pupils and parents) understand how to raise concerns (Optimus members only).
And, of course, with the growing interest in social media, complaints are often made publicly.
Members, do check out our seven-step guide on how to deal with complaints made by parents on social networking sites.
We're delighted to bring you our 16th annual Employment Law in Education conference, the only event where you can hear from three of the country’s leading education law firms on your key employment law and HR challenges.
Ensure you appropriately respond to and handle complaints and grievances from staff, and work through the formal procedures.
The event is taking place in London on Tuesday 2nd May, and in Manchester on Thursday 4th May.
Register now to secure your place!