Handling a bullying, harassment or discrimination complaint at work

Dealing with a complaint informally

As an employer or manager, you should try to resolve a complaint of bullying, harassment, discrimination or victimisation informally if possible. Dealing with it informally means taking steps to resolve the complaint without using a formal procedure like a grievance.

You should have already talked to the person who raised the issue to help decide the best approach together.

When a quiet word can be enough

In some circumstances, you might be able to resolve the complaint informally by talking privately with the people involved.

To take this approach, you would start by talking the issue through again with the person who made the complaint, including how they’d like to see it resolved. If their complaint is about another employee's behaviour, then you’d talk separately with the person they've complained about. Depending on how the talks go, you might find that you're able to resolve the complaint this way.

If you find you cannot resolve it this way or need more information, you should look into the complaint further.

If you need to look into the complaint further

Decide who will look into it

You should make sure the person who looks into the issue is neutral and not involved in the complaint.

If this is not possible, for example in a small business, the person looking into it must keep an open mind and look into it fairly.

Alternatively, you could pay for an external person to look into it, for example someone trained to handle workplace investigations and conflict resolution.

Get evidence

The person looking into the complaint should look for evidence that supports the complaint, and any evidence that undermines it.

They should ask for any evidence from:

  • the person who raised the complaint
  • anyone the complaint is about
  • any witnesses

For example, this could include emails, text messages, letters, photos or CCTV.

They should also keep a record of any evidence they find, and the steps they've taken to look for it.

Ways of resolving the complaint informally

Depending on the complaint and what's been learned from looking into it further, you will need to consider the best way to try to resolve it. You might need to agree this with other people, for example the person who made the complaint.

For example, if it's appropriate, you might:

  • try to resolve it by talking to someone in private
  • try to resolve it in a meeting with everyone involved, if everyone agrees to try this
  • offer mediation

You might try more than one of these things to try to resolve it.

Talking to someone privately

As part of looking into the complaint, you should have already talked with the people involved. For example:

  • the person who raised the complaint
  • the person the complaint is about
  • any witnesses

After looking into the complaint further, you might think that the best way to try to resolve it now is by talking to some of the people involved again.

Sometimes talking with the people involved in private can also help to:

  • repair working relationships
  • make clear what counts as acceptable behaviour

For example:

  • a line manager or someone in HR might be able to talk to someone in private to say their conduct was inappropriate
  • a manager might be able to explain to the person the complaint is about how their behaviour made someone feel, and see if they’d be willing to apologise

Use your judgement to help decide when talking to someone in private might be an option.

Holding a meeting with the people involved

Depending on the situation, you might feel it's appropriate to try to resolve the issue with an informal meeting.

For example, by meeting with:

  • the person who raised the complaint
  • the person the complaint is about
  • any witnesses

Before arranging this type of meeting, you should meet with everyone separately first to make sure they're all willing to meet together to try to resolve the complaint.

If you have a meeting, you should:

  • give everyone enough notice of the meeting
  • hold the meeting in a private place
  • listen to what everyone has to say
  • take everyone's views into consideration
  • work towards resolving the issue in a way that everyone can accept
  • make sure any agreed outcome is consistent with similar situations in the past
  • keep notes of any agreed actions

If you cannot agree on an outcome in the meeting, you should continue to try to resolve the issue afterwards. For example, you might approach everyone again and suggest a different way to resolve the issue.

Using mediation

If your employees agree, you could try mediation. Mediation involves an independent, impartial person helping both sides to try to find a solution.

For example, mediation can be useful if there's been a:

  • misunderstanding
  • lack of awareness of how someone's actions are affecting someone else

Find out more about mediation.

If no action is needed

After looking into a complaint thoroughly, you might decide there is no need for action or further steps.

If so, you should:

  • keep a written record of this decision and the reasons why
  • update the person who made the complaint, and explain why you decided no action is needed

If you need to take it further

If the complaint cannot be resolved informally, you or the employee might decide to take it further as a formal complaint.

Last reviewed