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HR Question of the Month: Anonymous Complaints Okay?

Question: We are preparing to offer to our employees a method to provide anonymous feedback. It will provide a way to report all types of information without the fear of repercussion. What types of advice or preparation should the HR department do before providing this to employees?

Response: While we are unaware of any prohibition against having employees submit feedback anonymously to the employer, we do not recommend any policy or practice of allowing or condoning anonymous complaints. In practice, anonymous comments and complaints are often vague, uncertain as to their legitimacy, and typically give the employer little or not enough useful information to initiate and undertake an appropriate investigation. Worse, such complaints arguably put the employer in the status of knowing about a potentially inappropriate, or even unlawful, situation underfoot with little or nothing to go on in connection with investigating it and/or remedying any harm that may be occurring. For example, if an employee submitted an anonymous complaint about a potentially unlawful workplace condition, the employer would still have a duty to investigate, but in such a circumstance the employer may lack important information about the underlying concern that would be needed to conduct an effective investigation, including the identity of the individual making the complaint and perhaps other relevant facts. In addition, the employer would be unable to collect more information without knowing the identity of the person who complained.

We understand the idea that employees may be more willing to report unsafe, uncomfortable or even unlawful conditions in the workplace if they do not have to reveal their identity in doing so. The benefits of any such "anonymous feedback" policy, however, are not outweighed by the detriments and risks to the employer. Therefore, we must caution the employer against creating or supporting any anonymous feedback practice. As noted, when a complaint is made anonymously, it is difficult for the employer to meet its investigative duty and achieve the objectives of conducting a prompt and thorough examination into possible unsafe or unlawful circumstances, and taking appropriate action to remedy them.

The better approach, and our recommendation, is to ensure that all employees know that any concerns about the workplace that they may have are important to the employer and should be brought to management's attention promptly, and without fear of retaliation or reprisal. In fact, your policy should go so far as to place an affirmative OBLIGATION upon employees to report -- in a non-anonymous way --unlawful harassment, discrimination or any other inappropriate conditions that they experience or witness. Employees also need to know that they can complain verbally or otherwise in other written format (including email) if that is more efficient or comfortable for them, and employee complaint procedures MUST give employees more than one avenue/person to direct their concerns. For example, if a complaint procedure requires employees to first bring any matter to the attention of their manager or supervisor, an employee who is having a problem with that very person is not going to be able to follow the policy, and may forego complaining altogether. This situation can be avoided by providing alternative complaint avenues for employees, including the ability to skip one or more "rungs" in the chain of command if they want or feel they need to do so. Again, the employer's policy must assure employees that they will not be retaliated against for making such concerns and/or complaints known to the employer.

You may want to explain this to employees when reviewing your complaint procedure with them so that they understand why anonymous complaints are discouraged. Again, the best practice and our recommendation is for the employer to implement a policy that encourages, indeed requires, employees to come forward with complaints or concerns, and with a strict policy prohibiting retaliation of any kind when they do so.

Want to learn more? Click here to listen to our podcast regarding anonymous employee complaints.

The Unhappy Reality of Slip and Fall Accidents
Although it varies by industry, claims made by businesses for slip and fall accidents account for more than 20 percent of general liability claims each year, and have an average payout of more than $20,000. Every business has the potential to experience these incidents, but the retail and commercial industries are often prime targets for slips and falls, most likely due in part to their frequent interaction with the public. Likewise, certain times of the year also seem more prone to slip and fall incidents, such as colder months and the autumn and winter holidays. The causes definitely vary, but three particular circumstances commonly increase a business’s risk.

One area of increased risk is simply more traffic. Regardless of the reason, more traffic naturally points to a greater chance for mishaps. Add other distractions such as point of sale displays, store demonstrations, or any other typical “shopping” distraction, and the risk increases. To reduce this risk, you would need to reduce foot traffic, and what business owner wants to do that? A more acceptable alternative is to emphasize the importance of regular facility inspections, on-going housekeeping, and sound maintenance practices.

Next is seasonal weather. Depending on your store’s location, rain and winter’s sleet, ice, and snow can significantly impact slip and fall frequency. Couple this with customers who may not be wearing appropriate footwear for the conditions, and your risk increases.

Businesses should implement policies to keep walkways, driveways, and customer parking areas clear of ice and snow accumulation.

  • Pay special attention to drainage runoff or discharge from buildings, canopies, and landscaping.
  • Many incidents occur after a day of snow/ice melt and the refreeze in the evening or morning hours, which are also often the busiest times of day.
  • And don’t forget indoor slips and falls. Customers inevitably track in whatever type of precipitation is outdoors, creating wet and slippery floors, especially around entrances.

Keeping employees aware of and on the lookout for these increased weather-related risks is critical to slip and fall prevention—inside and out.

And last, but certainly not least, is fraud. The winter holidays in particular are prime time for fraudsters. The reasons are as varied as the people involved, but often they stem from an increased need for money, or even simply taking advantage when larger crowds or weather conditions present an opportunity. Fraud can be hard to detect and prove, but being aware of fraud indicators, keeping video surveillance footage, and documenting your housekeeping details (e.g., When was ice melt laid? When was the floor mopped?) can be valuable for helping to combat fraud.

Slip and fall incidents and their root causes can be obvious (an icy sidewalk), or not so obvious (a “staged” fall for fraudulent purposes). In other words, business owners need to be ready for all conditions. Look at your business through the eyes of a customer, paying special attention to the three common causes discussed here. They show what your business could be exposed to, and the preventable situations you can remedy to help you avoid an insurance claim. For more information on slip and fall prevention, contact your local Federated marketing representative.

Develop Talent Now for a Successful Future
While incentives such as bonuses and profit sharing are important, recognizing achievements and building self-esteem are priceless.

Some business owners procrastinate or avoid communicating their succession plans because they fear how family members and employees might react. However, their silence may actually create more stress and cause harm to the business. Most employees—including family members—will feel more secure about the future if they know what to expect and how they will fit in.

It’s never too late to develop a business succession plan. But the earlier you start, the better. Estate planning experts agree that long-term plans to transfer businesses are generally much more successful than those “patched together” following the unexpected death or disability of an owner.

Business succession actually begins with each employee’s first day on the job

Think about it, whether he or she is one of your children or a high school student working part-time, that young person could someday be the head of the company.

Experts agree—succession planning includes creating an environment that motivates employees to use their talents and skills to reach their full potential and contribute to the success of the business. Sounds simple, but how do you accomplish it?

Perhaps a mentor program or an apprenticeship is a good start. Talented young people are more likely to stay with the company if they feel involved in something bigger than their own job. It is wise to provide opportunities by matching experienced workers with newer employees to guide them as they grow in their jobs.

As employees gain experience, they become assets to your business and their value increases. Providing key employees opportunities to gain well-rounded business experience through cross-functional training and experience is admirable. This no doubt helps them become dependable managers who can make good decisions and take initiatives to improve operations.



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