Handling a complaint from a former employee

Check the facts before you act, advises John Burnell

John Burnell, director, Personnel Solutions
John Burnell, director, Personnel Solutions

Q: A former probationary employee who was sacked after three months has made strong allegations of bullying against her former manager. The manager and everyone else vehemently deny the accusations. Do I have to investigate this - and if so, how?

A: Yes, you do have to investigate; but the key point here is that the person involved is no longer your employee.

Under employment and discrimination law, you are obliged to address concerns raised by a former employee, but you don't have to follow the detailed steps of your grievance procedure in the way you would if he or she was still an employee.

Rather, you simply need to respond in writing to the complaint within 28 days, and that is all - unless the person then complains to the Employment Tribunal that there was sex discrimination or harassment. The complainant can do this, because there is no qualifying period for making such claims - unlike the 12-month limit for unfair dismissal claims.

Your response to the complaint has to be a considered one. It's no use simply saying that there's no case and telling them to go away. This might well be presented as evidence at a tribunal that you had not taken your former employee's complaint seriously.

You should therefore do everything you can to ensure that the complaint is properly looked into, insofar as the detail in it allows you to do so.

The people complained about should be asked for their side of the story. You should look for evidence of other similar incidents involving the same people. You should ask their peers and their managers what they are like as fellow workers and how likely it is that, whether they are conscious of it or not, they could be seen as bullies.

It is often the case that someone complaining of bullying is simply no good at their job and has resisted attempts to manage them; what they see as bullying, you see as firm management, and it's often down to style and communication. But you should not assume that this is the case.

Make sure you have checked out all the available facts, and then make a considered managerial judgement on the case. After all, that's what you're paid for.

- John Burnell is director of Personnel Solutions

Send your HR questions to John.Burnell@personnel-solutions.org.uk

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