Tips - dealing with a complainant

Tips for dealing with a person who makes a complaint of discrimination or sexual harassment

Keep these factors in mind when assisting a person complaining about discrimination or sexual harassment. They:

  • want the discrimination or sexual harassment to stop and for things to go back to normal;
  • do not want to get a reputation as a trouble-maker;
  • may fear retaliation in response to their complaint;
  • may blame themselves;
  • may be concerned about the loss of privacy if they pursue their complaint;
  • may not want to lose control of the complaint;
  • may feel they have no conclusive proof and will not be able to establish the truth;
  • may only be interested in ensuring that the same thing won't happen to others;
  • may be in distress, sometimes very serious distress;
  • may not feel comfortable taking the complaint to the person assigned to the role;
  • may have previously valued the friendship or support of the alleged discriminator/harasser and feel confused about the behaviour;
  • may suggest that it is probably pointless to complain;
  • may want someone to be with them in any discussions or interviews;
  • may feel like leaving their job;
  • may discuss 'putting up with' the problem;
  • may be suffering stress related symptoms, either physical or psychological;
  • may want disciplinary action taken against the person being complained about;
  • may be uncertain about what they want to do;
  • may want to learn how to deal directly with the discriminator/harasser.
  • The complaint may have been building up over time and they may have been too afraid to discuss the situation.

Suggested questions to ask the person making the complaint

  • When and where did the incident/s happen?
  • Who did it?
  • What was said and done?
  • What did you do?  Have you spoken with the person?  What was their response?  Have you said anything to them?
  • Has this happened before?  How did you deal with it then?
  • How are you feeling about the person?
  • What is your work relationship with the alleged discriminator/harasser?
  • In what way is this discrimination/harassment affecting your work?
  • Did anyone else observe or hear it?
  • Have you told anyone else about what happened?
  • Did you keep any notes about what was going on?  (In your diary, for example)
  • Do you know what your options are?
  • Do you need a support person or a counsellor?
  • Do you need some time off or other assistance?
  • Did you know we have a company policy on discrimination and sexual harassment?
  • What would you like to do about it?  How can this situation be resolved right now?
  • Do you want to make a formal complaint?
  • What would you like me to do?

Adapted from: Eliminating Sexual Harassment from the Workplace - Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1993