HRBC Forum Summary

November 2020: Complaints Management 101 and procedural fairness: All you need to know.

Guest speaker Chris Wheeler presented on complaints management and procedural fairness for the November Webinar of HR Breakfast Club NSW Councils Edition. Chris is a Specialist Adviser, Ethical Conduct with Centium, a Commissioner on the Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission, Solicitor, accredited mediator and consultant. In his consulting work, he focusses on complaint management, advice and investigations and training on the handling of complaints and public interest disclosures. 

Chris began by outlining how in a liberal democracy, everyone has a right to complain. Managing complaints requires practitioners to have a sound understanding of not only why people complain, but why they complain in the way that they do.

Chris offered strategies to help address emerging challenges of complaints in modern day society, and outlined that effective prevention strategies focus on: 

  • Effective complaint management systems;
  • Management of perceptions of fairness;
  • Management of expectations;
  • Improved communication; and
  • Appropriate apologies.

The challenges facing complaints are evolving. People’s expectations about what governments can and should do for them are changing, and more people are experiencing vulnerability for a range of different reasons. It is particularly important for practitioners to understand perceptions of fairness, to understand how it interplays with the Model Code of Conduct for Local Councils in NSW, as issues must be dealt with consistently, promptly, and fairly.

Perceptions of fairness are important through the entire decision-making process, as it impacts the decision, the procedures, the conduct, and the treatment of the people affected. Chris outlined how maintaining one’s dignity is a fundamental human need, and that people are programmed to sense and react to threats to their dignity in the same way as threats to their safety. Ensuring procedural fairness is about the avoidance of practical injustice.

Finally, Chris explored the idea of procedural fairness, and covered issues such as bias and treatment through processes. Many theories apply, and it is important to consider how this operates in the everyday world when responding to complaints.

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