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Filing a complaint is serious business

Columnist Kristen Asleson says make sure you follow the proper procedures and have documentation.

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When is the appropriate time to file a formal complaint against a co-worker, your boss, or someone outside of where you work?

Taking the time to file a complaint is a serious matter. If you feel a complaint is warranted, it is vital you follow the specific procedures recommended for either your place of work or to whom you are filing to complaint with. Your reasons for filing a complaint are your own, but, keep in mind, to do this right, it will take time and thought. A lot. Of both.

Let’s start with clarification on what a formal complaint means. For this column’s purposes, it means taking a complaint beyond gossiping around the water cooler or over a cup of coffee.

The complaint needs to be valid, have a purpose in regard to an issue that was either done to you, or something not done correctly, and it needs to go beyond griping about who drank the last cup of coffee and did not start a new pot.

If you are ready to file a “real” complaint, and cannot find a policy to do so, here are a few helpful hints I have learned recently.


First, make sure you have all your documentation in regard to events and circumstances in writing so it makes sense to someone reading it. Most likely that would be in a chronological order, but in some instances, a “story” lays it out as well.

Expounding on documentation, it needs to be detailed. Be sure to include dates, location, witnesses, and all events, conversations, emails, etc., that have led up to the complaint. When detailing the complaint, this is not the time to add colorful language or be accusatory. Keep it simple, factual, straightforward and verifiable.

If your complaint needs to be filed within your company, and there is no official human resources department, address your issue with your direct supervisor. Should the complaint be about your direct manager, then the person who oversees them would be appropriate.

When you are ready with your official complaint, hand it to the proper person and make sure to say, “I am here to submit a formal complaint.” Let them read what you have outlined, and make sure the receipt of the complaint is acknowledged.

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I recently filed a complaint and within a day received acknowledgment of it from the Department of Human Services. An acknowledgment of receipt is important so no one can say it was never received.

Rather than bombard the HR representative, supervisor or whomever you submitted the complaint to, give it a day or two for them to acknowledge it. Then request a meeting to discuss what you presented on paper. This will be the best way for them to ask questions and to gain clarification.

Unfortunately, complaints that surround discrimination, unfair treatment at work, or something that may be illegal in the workplace, may require outside intervention. There are proper channels as to whom complaints should be filed and these are often found online. In addition, most agencies that handle complaints have online methods of filing as well.

Complaints, when handled correctly, will have the outcome deserved. But, if you are complaining just to be negative and gain attention or turn someone against another person, the outcome could be far different than what you intended.


Remember, if your complaint is unwarranted, it may make you look like the problem.

Kristen Asleson is owner of Midwest Virtual Assistants. Send comments and ideas to .

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