1. Take the complaint seriously
Even if you think the complaint is frivolous, it is a legal document. The complaint could have an impact on your career. When you receive a complaint, make sure to read it from beginning to end. This will allow you to target the problem and identify the next steps. It is necessary to understand the allegations against you in order to adequately defend yourself.
2. Identify the time to respond
When you read the complaint and the cover letter, if any, make note of the deadline that the professional body or association has given you to submit your own version of events. Make sure you take note of this deadline and notify your representative. Although some agencies may grant an extension under certain circumstances, others do not have or refuse to grant that flexibility.
3. Communicate with your union or legal counsel
Since there is usually a deadline to respond to the complaint, it is best to immediately contact the person who will represent you in the matter. In so doing, you can ask for help, among other things, and seek guidance through the workings of the complaint process.
4. Choose your initial strategy
Often, it is important to cooperate with the professional body or association so that the Complaint Committee has all the relevant information to be able to make an informed decision. However, if you have a representative, it is often advisable to cease all direct communication with the professional body or association and let your representative be your spokesperson, because he/she is probably more knowledgeable of the process and does not have the emotional hangover which a person who receives a complaint often has, especially if it contains allegations which, if proven, could constitute criminal acts. In such cases, you may choose not to submit a written statement. At the very least, you should talk to a criminal lawyer.
5. Avoid communicating directly with the complainant
If the complainant is a student, patient, client, etc., it is better not to contact him or her about the complaint. If it is necessary to communicate with that person in the context of your job, make sure, to the extent possible, that there is always someone else present and do not discuss the complaint against you.
If the complainant is rather your employer, continue to cooperate with him to fulfill tasks relating to your job. Make sure you avoid discussing the complaint with your employer before consulting your union representative or legal counsel.
6. Gather all relevant documents
Do not wait to gather all relevant documents to the complaint. It is better to have too many supporting documents than not to have enough. Relevant documents can also help you prepare your defence and support your claims. Do not forget to include a copy of your resume and any letters of reference relevant to your job.
7. Put the facts in writing
It is important to communicate relevant information as quickly as possible to your union or your lawyer so that they can have all the tools necessary to guide you and represent you throughout the process. To do so, lay out all the facts relating to the complaint and communicate this information to your union or legal representative in writing. Your version of events should be as detailed as possible (description of the environment, witnesses, etc.). Often, representatives may point to areas where more information is needed to obtain a fuller picture. More importantly, they can help structure your evidence so as to provide the Complaint Committee of the professional body of association a valuable tool with which to make an informed decision.
8. Prepare a list of potential witnesses
Prepare a list of potential witnesses who may be able to support your story. Whenever possible, do this as soon as possible so as not to forget who was present during the alleged incident. It is also sometimes useful to include witnesses who can testify about your character and your skills.
9. Protect your other rights
It is also equally important to ensure that the complaint does not trigger other problems such as a criminal case or even affect another job. Make sure you consider your strategy by taking into account all the elements involved. When developing your strategy with your representative, discuss all the possible ramifications of the complaint.
10. Do not panic
It is important to remember that a complaint does not automatically mean the end of your career or your job. The complaint must be proven and you will have the opportunity to be heard before a decision is made. It is therefore important to remain calm and take the time to properly prepare your defence. Many complaints are without merit and are dismissed accordingly. Others are resolved in a manner agreeable to both the complainant and the defendant. Although the process may seem long, be patient. It is better to take the time to develop a strategy and present a full and vigorous defence.
Author: Julie Skinner, © Nelligan O'Brien Payne LLP 2011