Thursday, December 14

How to File a Complaint or Grievance Against The Boss

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Your boss has given you an appraisal rating that you feel is grossly unfair and much worse than last year and when he has given you no justification for this action; OR your boss has given you a written reprimand for something you did not do; OR your boss did not even give you an interview for a promotion for which wanted and for which you applied. Even worse, he selected a person with less experience and less education than you; OR your boss has given you written notice that you will be fired in two weeks because your performance has been unacceptable. This was done despite the fact that he had never expressed dissatisfaction with your performance before.

Employees, somewhere, face these kinds of challenges every day. Their boss may be from heaven, from hell or from somewhere in-between, but the question is what do they do? Grin and take it, hope for the best, pray or do something else?

That something else, depending on the status of the employee and the organization’s policies, may be to file a formal complaint or grievance against the actions of the boss and, by implication, against the entire organization. Many organizations, especially those that are governmental or in the public sector or have employees covered by a union contract, give permanent employees (probationary employees usually do not have this right or option) the right to file a formal adverse action against their boss or the organization or both for actions or inactions to which they feel they have been damaged.

If you are at the edge of your wits regarding your boss’s unfair actions or inactions against you and are considering filing adverse action against him or her, before making  a move, consider the following:

For years I was a government contractor that had contracts-some of them quite large-to handle employee complaints and grievances from a number of agencies. We handled many cases and from that experience, I offer the following insights regarding filing formal complaints and grievances against the boss or the organization:

  • Most cases filed by employees are lost by the employee. This is because the case should not have been filed in the first place or, if the case was justified, the employee failed to supply sufficient justification or objective evidence to support the case. Many cases consisted mainly of the employee’s word against the boss’s word and the boss’s word usually wins out.
  • Most cases are caused by management inaptness or poor communication with the grieved employee, as opposed to intentional unfairness or wanton discrimination. Therefore, most cases filed could have been avoided or could be resolved by the bosses’ better management of and communication with his or employees.
  • A case is more easily won by the employee when other employees of the same boss have filed complaints or grievances against that boss and won.
  • Some employees file so many cases that are looked at as pests by the organization and not taken very seriously.

If you feel you have been wronged by your boss and are contemplating filing some kind of adverse action against him or her, you might benefit from my experience in handling in all types of cases and the prospect of winning or losing each type. The Following are the most common types of cases:

  • Performance Appraisal: Employees file cases in this category because they feel they have received an appraisal rating lower than they deserve. There are many cases filed in this category because appraisals in most organizations take place once a year. Some of these cases are won by the employee and others are usually lost. Generally, if an employee grieves a performance rating that is good or better than just satisfactory or normal; these cases are difficult to win. Here, the burden of proof is on the employee to prove that his or her performance deserved the highest rating, which is almost impossible for the employee to do. The motive for the employee, here, is to qualify for the highest raise, where appraisal results are liked to compensation.

The situation is different when the employee complains about a negative rating or one below satisfactory. Here, the rating can have a damaging affect on the employee’s career and here the burden of proof is on the boss to justify the rating. Because many bosses are too lazy to fully document the employee’s performance results, such justification is difficult to produce.

  • Selection: Here the employee is alleging discrimination or unfairness on the part of the boss because he or she was not interviewed for a promotion when the employee was just as qualified for the position as the people who were interviewed or, though interviewed, was not selected for the position, even though the employee alleges that he or she was the most qualified of all the candidates.

In the case of not being interviewed, the employee would have a better than fair chance of winning, especially if the position being filled had been posted and the minimum qualifications, in terms of years of experience and level of education, were clearly specified. These are paper qualifications and it is quite easy to verify the employee’s qualifications from human resources files. On the other hand, if the grieving employee was interviewed but was not selected, then the case is almost impossible to win for the employee. The selection decision is not based solely on paper qualifications. It is based on the selecting official’s projection of which candidate would function best in the position. This not only has to do with experience, skills and education but on things that are not on paper. These things might include the candidate’s traits, abilities, interests, character and even personality. These kinds of things are usually brought out in the job interview. The grieving employee would have no idea how his interview staked up with that of the candidate who was offered the job.

  • Discipline (in the form of written reprimand, suspension or demotion): This could be comparatively easy for the employee to win or just about impossible, depending on the cause of the discipline. If the discipline is imposed because of performance problems from the employee, these are the easiest cases for the employee because bosses have difficulty documenting and proving employee performance problems, especially if other employees are having the same kinds of performance problems and are not the targets of discipline. But the cases that are much more difficult for the employee are cases involving discipline imposed, as may be mandated by the human resources policies of the organization, for rule breaking, disruptive behavior, such as violence, or forbidden or criminal behavior, such as use of drugs or drinking on the job or stealing company property. As long as the boss has sufficient evidence that the employee is guilty of such things, he may be required to administer the mandated discipline or the boss, him or herself, may be the target of discipline from the organization.
  • Dismissal or firing: This is the ultimate form of discipline in any organization if it is done because of the employee’s fault. If the employee is let go because of down-sizing or laid-off, this is not discipline and, therefore, not justification for adverse action against the boss or the organization.

Firing for performance deficiencies can be quite easy for the employee to win, providing the employee is not is probationary status at the time of the firing. Probationary employees typically do not have any recourse within the organization to adverse action. But employees who have permanent status would be crazy not to file adverse action if they are fired for performance reasons. They would have nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain. Because the boss typically does not document employee performance very well, the employee could very well win his or her case and get reinstated with back pay!

If you feel that you have been terribly wronged or discriminated against by your boss or by the organization, you can file adverse action-a complaint, a grievance or even a law suite. But think carefully before you decide to do it. Whether you win or loose, just the filing could destroy your relations with the boss and make you an outcast from the organization. Plus, bosses and organizations can have very crafty ways of getting back at you for taking such action. But, then again, that is called, reprisal, which is, in and of itself, a basis for filing a complaint, grievance or law suite. But which will probably be lost by the employee. 


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