How to Complain at Work | California Employee Rights

This video is about how to complain at work. Sounds funny, I mean do I really have to teach people how to complain at work? But in reality yeah, we do. Because the way you complain in the workplace can make the day and night difference between winning and losing your case. In fact, one of the biggest defenses in almost every case we bring is that the employer “never knew.” “We couldn’t have retaliated against Johnny as we didn’t even know that Johnny had a complaint!” Of course Johnny saying “That’s bogus! I told you Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.” But here’s the problem for Johnny – he “told” them. So we’re going to talk about how Johnny should have complained, and let’s talk about the fundamentals of how to make a complaint at work.


Rule # 1 Write it Down

Always write your complaint down. Write it down.

Even if you can’t write it down at the time that you’re making the complaint or the report, write it down after the fact that you made the report. And it’s not enough to just write it down! Turn it into your employer! Tell them about the fact that you made the report. So Johnny tells Sandy that there’s something illegal happening. “Tells” meeting didn’t put it in writing. Later Johnny takes out a piece of paper and writes down, “I told Sandy about this illegal activity at work at [such-and-such date] and [such and such time].” That’s how you make a complaint in the workplace.

If you can’t write it down at the time you made the complaint, later on you double back, you write it down, and you turn it in. To who? To human resources if that’s appropriate; to your supervisor for sure is always appropriate. If you feel uncomfortable because your complaint is about your supervisor, turn it into your supervisor’s supervisor or anybody else in the organization that is considered to be a part of management.

Rule # 2 Include Date Time & Events in Written Complaint

What you turn in should include the date, time, and a description of the events.

Don’t turn in a report that says, “On someday I saw something and it may have been wrong.” That’s not going to be very helpful for your case at all. Instead you should be putting, “On Friday March 16th, I saw [this person] do this illegal thing or [this person] did this thing to me.” Be sure that you include of course the description of the events and the witnesses to the event if you know of any.

Rule # 3 Focus Your Complaint on Illegal Acts

Focus, focus, focus. Focus your complaint on the illegal behavior or activities at work. Don’t include frivolous stuff in your complaint.

A lot of times my office received complaints and reports of illegal conduct in the workplace but unfortunately this person complains about everything: the flavor of soda in the soda machine or the kinds of snacks that they have. It allows the employer to claim, “This is a Chicken Little! This wasn’t somebody who we thought was making a bona fide report. He complained about everything!” Instead focus your report on the workplace conduct which you believe to be illegal activities. If it’s a hospital focus on the lack of patient care or patient conditions. If it’s a workplace, a driving workplace, focus on the lack of training for drivers. Whatever it is that you’re complaining about what you know or believe to be illegal activities should be the focus of your report.

Rule # 4 Be Helpful

Be helpful in your complaint. Remember, it’s only highly likely you’ll be fired because you complain, it doesn’t mean you absolutely will be fired because you complain. So you don’t want to treat inside of your report the people who are reading it like they’re idiots or evil people. Instead try to be helpful. Imagine, as difficult as it may be for you to believe, imagine that the employer will get your report and actually want to do the right thing. If in your report you’re using profanity and expressing bad sentiments about the company, you may find yourself terminated for insubordination. Not because you made the report, because you called the President some bad words because you were so mad about the circumstances.

Rule # 5 Keep a Copy of Your Complaint

Most importantly, keep a copy of your complaint!

If you hand wrote it take it to a store make a copy. If you don’t have a copy machine take out your smartphone and take a picture of it. If you don’t have a smartphone, bump into anybody in the street and they probably have a smartphone, and take a picture of your complaint or report.

Even if the employer says that they will keep the complaint for you, don’t trust that. There have been many employers who say they will keep employee complaints. But when we come looking for him they don’t have them. Fortunately, for some of the clients they kept the copy. Interestingly, the employer has no explanation to offer as to why my client has a copy of their report stamped received, and the employer doesn’t have it.

How to Complain at Work Conclusion

This is not intended to be every tip and trick for making a complaint about your workplace, but it is intended to get the thinking, and to make sure are you avoid some of the common mistakes when making workplace report.

Lawrance Bohm is the founding member of the Bohm Law Group. He made this video to help some people who are researching how to complain at work. This page is not legal advice. If you want legal advice, please contact our office here.

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