The Recommended Way to Complain at Work
about Covid-Conditions of Employment
I am a seasoned union representative of employees with several decades of experience in filing complaints and seeking resolution to workplace issues. Here are a few very basic guidelines that my stewards are instructed to follow and are common to any “grievance procedure.” These are trying times, and otherwise complacent places of employment all have issues that will arise.
First of all, do not go running “into the office” at the first instance that a matter comes up. Plan your actions in advance, and always we like to say have a “Plan B” ready. An emotional outburst may only get you into trouble. And never, never, state any kind of threat, or say anything that could be construed as a threat, even administrative, if you don’t get what you want. It only gives away your strategy.
Grievances are of three types: individual, group, and institution (i.e., everyone who works there).
Do not use email to present your grievance, except for scheduling a meeting. You will end up with nothing more than an electronic exchange. You should always try to meet “face-to-face.” Also, anything you enter into the record can never later be retracted. All emails should be as formal and professional as possible, and avoid a “chit-chat” with management.
Itemize your complaint (e.g., issue #1, #2, #3), stating each of your concerns, each alleged violation of law, rule or regulation, and the remedy sought. Try to avoid going “all over the place.”
Do your research into topic to determine the specific, current written rules or regulations which have been issued. Have a printed copy with reference to any language in it to your concern. Vague references to the US Constitution or Bill of Rights are not authorized. You are not in the Supreme Court.
Contact one of the many government agencies, in advance, for guidance if you are in anyway uncertain about what are the current employment stipulations. Union representatives do this all the time in order to get a verification or clarification on something. Talk to a “subject-matter expert” for example at the Illinois State Workplace Rights Bureau. (https://illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/rights/labor_employ.html) or the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), Office of Labor Standards (www.chicago.gov/laborstandards).
Always raise your complaint informally at the lowest possible supervisory level, and elevate only then if necessary upon the response received. Don’t go running prematurely to the front office and bypass your boss.
Keep meetings with managers small, two or three employees and supervisors each is recommended. Never, never go alone to a meeting. You are leaving yourself open to whatever the managers might say about your conduct at it.
Immediately after any meeting each employee who attended should write a memorandum “for the record” as to what was discussed. You should be as accurate and professional as possible in writing this. Identify who was there, their names and titles, etc. This may be useful later, and “memorializes” the meeting.
The employers must offer to resolve the matter, and not just promise to “see what we can do” in order to get you out of his or her office. Schedule another meeting at a specific date and time if you want to give management time to come back with a counter offer.
Be open to any terms of settlement or offers of resolution, and pay attention to their “implementation.” Always determine who specifically is going to make a change, and by what time frame. Be open to negotiations about the settlement terms of which both parties can agree.
If you are ordered to return to work without resolution, do it. As a basic rule employees are obligated to perform assignments unless an action is potentially injurious to their health. Do not leave yourself open to a possible disciplinary action. Once again, it is always better to do it, and then grieve.
And remember that the world is not always made whole just by going in to see the boss. If that always happened there would not be an organized labor movement.