A complaint or grievance should not be considered valid only when an employee puts their concerns in writing. It used to be considered ‘dangerous’ for a manager or HR to act on an informal complaint that was not in writing. Having seen examples of this in practice, I consider it more dangerous for the manager to know of the situation but have a ‘hand’s off’ approach, justifying this by saying, ‘there’s nothing in writing’.
It is good practice to ask a staff member to put their concerns in writing – but give them a date to get this to you, so that in the event the document isn’t provided, you can follow up with a query outlining the incident or issues you believe were put to you and asking if they believe the situation has been resolved for them, or if they still wish to proceed according to the organisation’s grievance handling procedure.
Regardless of whether the staff member does put their complaint in writing or not, a manager can and should approach HR once they become aware of an informal complaint they have not been able to resolve or if the complaint is of a more serious nature, that HR should be aware of and then manage. HR can then ensure the complaint does become noted in writing as part of the grievance procedure for managing formal complaints.
A grievance procedure is not designed to resolve a matter but to manage the process of handling a complaint in a procedurally fair manner. A grievance procedure should include direction to managers (and staff) about how an informal or formal complaint will be managed, thus giving all parties certainty about the steps required by each party and what to expect.