A Guide for Responding to Anonymous Complaints

August 24, 2023

Let’s say you’ve received an anonymous complaint. What do you do next? Do you toss it aside because it doesn’t “seem” true or doesn’t include enough details? Or, do you roll up your sleeves and figure out a strategy to get to the bottom of the issue? 

Companies that value their employees and compliance culture often take the latter approach. An anonymous complaint unravels critical issues you might otherwise never detect. Taking these complaints seriously creates a strong speak-up culture, eliminates misconduct in the workplace, and improves your bottom line. What’s more, when anonymous complaints are heard, investigated, and resolved, your employees feel safer in the workplace and it becomes easy to retain (and attract) top talent. 

You’ve Received an Anonymous Complaint. Now What?

Responding to anonymous complaints isn’t the easiest task in the world. But it is certainly one of the most important parts of your compliance culture. Here’s a quick guide to responding to these complaints:

Acknowledge the Complaint 

An anonymous complaint is often challenging to understand, investigate, and resolve. This causes many managers to simply toss it aside. 

Unfortunately, this can be a big mistake. Anonymous complaints – regardless of how vague they may seem – can reveal key information about workplace wrongdoings. Resolving just a single complaint can prevent the same issue from repeating in the future. On the other hand, when these complaints go unacknowledged, you risk hurting your bottom line and losing valuable talent, not to mention ignoring a human being in need of your help.

Gauge the Severity of the Situation

How serious is the complaint you just received? Should you call the police? Or, is it something that can be resolved within the organization? 

Set specific timelines for responding to allegations. For instance, if you’re dealing with a case of violence or harassment, start investigating on the same day you receive the complaint. If the complaint doesn’t demand urgent resolution, respond within two days. 

Determine If the Compliant Warrants an Investigation

While you must act on every complaint you receive, it’s important to understand not all of them call for an investigation. 

For instance, if you receive an anonymous complaint about personality clashes between two employees, you don’t have to pour in your time and resources to respond or investigate the matter. But how do you truly determine if a complaint demands an investigation? 

In simple words, if an allegation signals employee misconduct, harassment, illegal harassment, and other forms of noncompliance, it must be investigated.

There are several ways to weigh the credibility of a specific allegation. Some of them include:

  • Determine whether the facts put forth by the complainant sound reasonable 
  • Understand if anyone involved in the incident has a motive to lie
  • Find a direct or indirect witness to corroborate an allegation (or a specific response to an allegation)
  • History of honesty or dishonesty of parties involved 
  • Consistency of certain behaviors that someone is known to do frequently
  • Whether there are any inconsistencies in the statements you receive
  • Manner of testimony such as indirect answers or hesitations of speech 
  • Similar allegations across other reports

Focus on the Facts 

Anonymous complaints can be challenging to confirm. Here, you can’t point out who the complainant is, which means there is no solid evidence against the accused. Sometimes, an anonymous complaint can also be vague and fail to point out who is being accused. Regardless of how scarce the details are, it’s important to squeeze every last bit of information from it. If need be, you can even get a workplace investigator on board to help you resolve the issue.  

Interview the Parties Involved

If an anonymous complaint names a specific person, make sure you interview them at the beginning of your investigation. This can help you gauge the situation better, and determine the credibility of the accusation. Remember, investigations are not interrogations. When the time comes to interview the parties involved, it’s important to ask open-ended questions in a way that doesn’t make them feel attacked. 

What Not to Do 

When dealing with an anonymous complaint, knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do. Here are certain things to avoid during the investigation:

Don’t Let Emotions Guide You

Panic is often the first reaction to any unpleasant issue. At first, getting to the bottom of the issue may even seem overwhelming. However, resolving a serious accusation requires a logical thought process; not emotional reactions. Make sure you stay calm and keep your mind clear to find the truth behind the complaint. 

Don’t Assume or Conclude

Simply because a complaint seems vague or surprising doesn’t mean you dismiss it as unimportant or untrue. Assuming a complaint is irrelevant and not acting on it can cause it to become a major issue down the line. Tagging it as untrue may lead to a biased investigation. 

In addition, it’s important to remember that every anonymous complaint must not be concluded as a fact. This can lead to punishing the wrong person and create a tense work environment. Once you receive a complaint, it is important to first gather the facts and test its credibility before starting the actual investigation.

Don’t Condone Retaliation

The purpose of an anonymous reporting system is to remove the fear of retaliation and encourage people to report misconduct. Make sure you take appropriate action if you see anyone retaliating against an employee. 

Don’t Compromise on Confidentiality

Confidentiality is a key element of every workplace investigation. Make sure you do not discuss the matter with anyone who is not involved in the investigation. Compromising the confidentiality of the investigation is synonymous with compromising the anonymity of the accuser. It can lead to retaliation, trigger office gossip, hurt your investigation, create a tense work environment, and ultimately impact your company.

A Final Word

A successful investigation process often requires strong leaders who are willing to listen, be open-minded, and have sound judgment. 

It is critical to gather as many facts as possible before responding to a complaint. This helps determine the credibility of the complaint and creates a solid foundation for the upcoming investigation. Responding effectively to anonymous complaints shows the company’s dedication to an employee’s well-being, helps create a speak-up culture, boosts workplace productivity, and ultimately strengthens the company’s bottom line.