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How to Write a Complaint Letter About a Supervisor

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From incompetence, to unreasonable expectations, poor communication and even rude behavior -- admit it, we all complain about our supervisors from time to time. But when should you stop complaining to colleagues and issue a formal complaint? “Sometimes a session of venting is enough, if the problem is minor,” writes Phyllis Korkki in a 2013 New York Times article "How Offices Become Complaint Departments." “But if it’s serious, merely complaining will not be enough." If you decide it's time to write a letter of complaint about your supervisor, proceed with caution, care and professionalism.

Reasons to File a Complaint

Filing a letter of complaint about your supervisor can be a delicate situation. You may worry about further damaging your office relations, or even losing your job. However, if your supervisor is engaging in any form of harassment, discrimination, work policy violations or illegal company practices, it is worth your well-being, and that of your coworkers, to issue a complaint. And according to Donna Ballman in her article "Four Times When You Should Complain About Your Boss," these reasons also entitle you to legal protection against retaliation.

Addressing Your Letter of Complaint

Many companies have a formal process for issuing complaints. Check your employee handbook, or with your Human Resources department, for company procedures. Most often, your letter will be addressed to your HR department. If your company does not have an HR department, draft your letter to an appropriate person on your company’s executive team. This could be your superior’s boss, or depending on the size of your office, the company president.

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Drafting Your Letter

Check your employee handbook for complaint procedures. Once you submit a letter of complaint, you cannot take back your allegations. Be aware that HR is entitled to investigate your complaint. "That means that even if they have a policy of keeping your complaint confidential, your boss, the person you're complaining about, and your witnesses and other coworkers will probably find out about it" says Ballman. Be sure your complaints hold legitimacy and you have accurate proof to support your claim. This could include emails between you and your superior, witness statements from other coworkers and other information you have documented in your own words.

Detailing Your Complaint

Begin your letter by introducing yourself, your position with the company, your tenure with the company, and by stating to whom your complaint pertains. Next, state your claim succinctly and professionally, providing a synopsis of events leading up to your complaint. Include factual details, such as dates and times of cited incidents, transcribed conversations, witness statements, policy violation citations, and any steps you took to mitigate or resolve the issue. If you feel you are in danger, it is reasonable to request separation from your supervisor until completion of the complaint investigation. Conclude your letter by detailing next steps. Will you follow up within a certain time frame? Do you intend to pursue any legal actions?

Submitting Your Letter

Review your company policy on how to submit your complaint letter. Is email OK, or does HR prefer a printed copy? It’s always best to have a hard copy of your letter as formal documentation. Submit one copy to HR, one to your attorney (if you are pursuing legal recourse) and keep a copy for your own records. Request confidentiality and an acknowledgement of receipt of your letter.

About the Author

Based in the D.C. metro area, Lindsey A. Frederick has been writing communications and career-related pieces since 2007. Her articles have appeared in "New Identity Magazine," FamousDC.com, Corporette.com, "Tomorrow's Business Leader," the Christian Writer's Guild, "Winery Weddings," "Christian Communicator" and more. Frederick has a Bachelor of Science in interpersonal communication and is the marketing and communications coordinator for an international charitable nonprofit.

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