There is an art to making a persuasive complaint. As an employee, if you need to file a complaint with your employer, keep in mind the things you should and should not do.
Focus on the goal of your complaint. Your goal should be to make sure your employer can quickly review your complaint, understand what you are complaining about, know how to begin its investigation and know what an ideal resolution would look like to you.
To accomplish this goal, do the following:
- Make it factual. Remove all emotion from your recitation of events.
- Make it short and succinct. Give the “30,000 view” of events and do not dwell too deeply in the details. There will be time to get into the details later. You need the employer to be able to immediately understand the basis of your complaint.
- Make it chronological. Tell your story in chronological order. It makes it so much easier for the person reading your complaint to follow through what happened if you do not bounce back and forth.
- Make it specific. Use specific names and job titles, not just job titles when you refer to people. Do not use abbreviations. You cannot assume the person reading your complaint knows what those abbreviations stand for. Give specific dates of incidents when possible. Give specific example of incidents. Instead of using general language such as “I was harassed,” say something like “On April 25, he grabbed me in the hall and leaned down and kissed my neck in front of two of my co-workers.” Specific details will always be far more persuasive than general allegations.
- Make sure to use legal buzz words. If you think you have been discriminated against because of your race, say so. If you think you are being sexually harassed, say so. If you think you are being paid less because you are a woman, say so. Too many people dance around using the words “discrimination” or “retaliation” because of a fear of retaliation. Paradoxically, it is in using those specific words that you actually get the most protection from retaliation.
- Make sure to consider who will receive the complaint. Certainly, Human Resources should receive your complaint. However, you may consider also sending a copy directly to the person about whom you are complaining. This can be tricky. However, it is often important to show that the wrongdoer knew of your complaint if you are later retaliated against. While the fear of retaliation is real, paradoxically, sending a copy directly to the person you are complaining about can actually get you more protection from retaliation.
- Make sure to consider getting help. Finally, do not be afraid to get help. As a lawyer who represents individuals in employment disputes, I can walk you through the process of filing an internal complaint. I can even draft it for you. Or, I can draft a letter to go straight to your company’s legal department to set out your complaint.
You do not have to go it alone. If you feel like you are in a challenging situation at work and need some advice, we can help.