Workplace complaints are a double-edged sword. When handled effectively, they can lead to improved processes, better communication, and a more conducive working environment. But mishandling complaints can generate tension, decrease productivity, and even result in vexatious claims that disrupt the workplace.

Vexatious claims are typically characterised by their primary purpose to harass or subdue rather than seeking a genuine resolution. They are a common feature in Upward Bullying, where a subordinate might use vexatious claims as part of their bullying campaign. 

Vexatious claims can consume an excessive amount of resources and time and can poison the culture. For instance, an employee might consistently lodge complaints about minor or non-existent issues, intending to cause distress or difficulty to a co-worker or manager. These complaints, rooted more in personal grievances than legitimate concerns, can drain resources and morale .

There have been instances where complaints handling went wrong, causing considerable damage to the organisation and its staff. A classic example is the case of the chronic complainer detailed in a Harvard Business Review article . The article recounted an executive whose incessant negativity proved toxic to himself and those around him. The executive’s constant complaints started to affect not only his own mental wellbeing but also the overall morale and productivity of his team.

A rigorous complaints handling process can prevent such scenarios and ensure appropriate due diligence. It can help identify vexatious claims and prevent them from wreaking havoc.

Here are the essential steps in a thorough complaint handling process:

1: Receiving and Acknowledging the Complaint

The initial stage involves recording the complaint and acknowledging receipt to the complainant.

2: Assessing and Assigning Priority

Complaints should be assessed based on their severity, complexity, and impact. High priority should be given to serious complaints that may have significant repercussions.

3: Investigating the Complaint

An impartial investigation should be conducted to gather all relevant facts and perspectives. This process must be fair, transparent, and comprehensive and without bias.

4: Responding to the Complainant

Once the investigation is completed, the complainant and the respondent should be informed of the findings and the subsequent actions to be taken. If disciplinary action is required only the person/s subject to the disciplinary action are notified.

5: Reviewing and Improving the Complaints Handling Process

This step involves regularly assessing the complaints handling process for any necessary improvements.

A rigorous complaints handling process can help prevent vexatious claims by providing a clear structure and set of standards for complaint management. By ensuring that each complaint is thoroughly investigated and evaluated, vexatious claims can be identified and addressed appropriately. Consequently, the entire organisation can benefit from improved communication, better working relationships, and an overall more positive work environment .

Yes, complaints handling can indeed be perilous when not properly managed. But an effective, robust process can turn this potential peril into a pathway for improvement and growth.