No matter how you handle a complaint about a supervisor from a subordinate, you might find yourself in a no-win situation. Handling employee grievances improperly can lead to pitting staff against management or decreasing a manager’s authority. Using objective parameters in handling supervisor complaints is the most effective way to diffuse difficult situations.

Interview the Two Parties

The first step in resolving a complaint by an employee against a supervisor is to get all of the facts the employee can present about the situation. Do this without his boss in the room and remain objective. Do not side or argue with the employee or try to resolve the situation at this point. Tell the employee you want his side of the story, will talk to the supervisor, collect any more information you can and then make your decision. After you have talked to the employee, meet with the supervisor to discuss the situation, telling him you are not making a judgment at this time and just want his side of the story. Have a third-party witness with you during each meeting. Tell each party not to discuss the situation with the other or any other employees until you have had a chance to do your research.

Talk to Witnesses

If the complaint can be supported or debunked by witnesses, interview other employees to determine if anyone can verify the subordinate’s or supervisor’s story. Talk to your attorney before you begin discussing the problem with other employees to minimize your legal risk. For example, if an employee accuses a supervisor of sexual harassment, you can damage the supervisor’s reputation in your company and in public if the story gets around.

Gather Evidence

Many supervisor complaints revolve around unfair workloads. To determine if a supervisor is within his rights to assign certain tasks or hours, review the subordinate’s written job description. If the supervisor has a superior other than you, discuss the situation with her and ask if she agrees that the supervisor’s behavior is appropriate for his position or if he has overstepped his bounds with this employee. Review your company handbook to see if any of the subordinate’s complaints are covered in your workplace rules, regulations, policies and procedures. Examine your state and federal labor laws to determine if they come into play.

Meet With Both Parties

After you’ve done your research, but before you’ve made your decision, bring both parties into a room to discuss the problem. Tell them you have not reached a decision yet and that you want to review each person’s argument to make sure you have all of your facts straight. Allow the two parties to discuss their problems with each other using the research you have conducted to address their complaints. This might be enough to make one realize he is in the wrong and either back down or apologize. If neither party changes their position, tell them you will make your decision and get back to them, unless you can do so there during the meeting. Based on the advice you get from your attorney, this might not be the time to make a ruling.

Make Your Decision

Using your interviews and research, determine if the subordinate has a case and how you will handle it. Three keys to resolving a supervisor complaint are fairness, legal issues and effective communication. Meet with your attorney and review the situation to get her input. Make your decision and call the two parties together to let them know what you have decided, in the presence of a witness. Tell them your resolution and why you made the decision, using objective facts to support your decision. Try to present the solution as resolving a misunderstanding rather than blaming one employee. Tell each employee how you would like to handle their relationship going forward, and ask if they can continue to work with each other based on your ruling. Tell each that they may not discuss any part of the grievance under penalty of termination. If you feel it’s appropriate, have a written summary outlining the complaint, the arguments of both sides and your decision for each employee to sign.