How to File a Grievance or Respond to an HR Complaint

How to Write an Employee Complaint

Upon getting that dreaded letter from HR (remember: HR is not your friend) advising you to mend your behavior or pointing out deficiencies or simply dredging up gossip because they want to fire you, most employees have no idea how to write a proper response.

Everything you have learned is wrong.

Everything you believe is wrong.

The reason is because the HR letter isn’t about you or your performance it all. It’s merely theater. What to do then, when you’re not writing the script?

You have to get them off-script. It is your only hope.

A reasoned, well-drafted response will play into their hands. That is what they expect you to do. They have played this game before, while you are just getting to know the rules.

What You’ll Need

• 1 typewriter

• 1 ream of paper (that’s 500 sheets)

• Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd

• 1 Liter of Jack Daniel’s Bourbon Whiskey

• 12 cans of beer

• 1 shot glass

• 1 #2 (HB) pencil

Beg, borrow or steal a typewriter for this task. A computer won’t do you any good because the risk of checking emails, listening to music or posting on Twitter must be resisted at all costs.

Use letter size paper for North America only. Pro-tip: use A4 for North America because these sheets will not fit into any file or binder owned or maintained by HR.

Why are you writing on paper and not sending your response electronically? An email is easily deleted, lost, overlooked or forgotten. You do not want your response to fall into any of these categories.

Familiarize yourself with the typewriter. You may never have used one before. Make sure that you set the paten for single spacing: you do not want a double-spaced document. Legal documents are most often double spaced to facilitate easy reading, but that is not your goal.

The first line of your response should read as follows:

“With respect to your missive dated (•), I must point out the following:”

Open the dictionary to a page at random. Find a word you do not understand. It does not matter if the word is listed as “archaic,” so much the better.

Pour yourself a shot of whiskey. Wash it down with beer. Feel the heat in your throat.

Write a sentence using your new word. The sentence does not necessarily have anything to do with your employment and certainly should not address any of the issues raised in the HR letter, except perhaps tangentially. Allusions or complex metaphors work well here. Don’t know what a metaphor is? No problem.

Build a paragraph around the sentence. Don’t worry about making mistakes, just backspace and “xxx” them out. Who cares if it looks sloppy? The sloppier the better.

Repeat this process until you have a page. Remove the page and place another sheet of paper into the typewriter.

Repeat this process. If you fall down drunk or vomit and cannot keep going, do not despair. You can come back to your work. It matters not that this work seems more and more incoherent as the page numbers build.

You will need at least forty pages. One hundred pages is even better. When you finish, mark each page in pencil on the lower right side. Now you can make a copy of your opus. After making a copy, remove five of the sheets from the copy at random.

On the last day that HR has given you to respond, present them with the photocopy with removed pages. They will be surprised. They may have some questions. Tell them at this point, their questions must be put in writing.

After two days, deliver one of the removed pages with a handwritten note saying that you have learned their file is not complete. Add a brief apology for the error. Repeat this apology over the next several weeks as you deliver these “essential” missing pages to HR.

If, in the meantime, HR asks any questions (remember that such questions must be made in writing) tell them that you just turned up another key document (one of the pages you’ve removed at random) and that they should hold off on asking any questions until their “set” is complete.

Finally, they will have the full forty (or one hundred) pages and they will come back to you with an inquiry of some sort.

“I Stand By My Statement”

“I stand by my statement” is the only response you need give. You might, as an aside, ask if their legal department has reviewed the statement. If so, you would like to see their comments. They will resist, but then ask them if you should get a lawyer as well and watch the sparks fly. “But you told me I didn’t need one” is what you should say, whether they told you so or not. HR always says this, and they have done this to employees hundreds of times, they won’t remember.

What Happens Next

At this point they may just forget the whole thing and leave you alone. But HR is stubborn and determined, the best you can do is drag the process out as long as you can while you look for another job.

If you are lucky there will be some form of mediation, arbitration, informal or formal union meeting concerning your case. The arbitrators in these matters are usually wise and have been around the block. They will carefully read your documents—hopefully you’ve prepared more than one—and will reach the conclusion that you are trying very hard to say something. What, they do not know. You do not know either. They will ask HR what you are trying to say—after all, you are not a lawyer and are most inexperienced in the ways of the HR world. HR will say they don’t know either. The wise one will then recommend a halt to the proceedings to give HR a chance to respond.

Of course, this is the last thing HR wants to do. They want your ass kicked out the door, nothing more. But they can’t ignore the jurisconsult. “I think you should try to get to the bottom of this,” the wise jurisconsult will say, and suggest that you all reconvene in a month’s time.

Which means one or two more paychecks for you, depending on the billing cycle.

During this period, HR will come back to you with questions. Claim that you have answered whatever question they asked before. Before long, you’ll be back before the arbitrator, who will blame HR for the lack of progress.

At this point, you might suggest an outside investigation, with the results reported back to the arbitrator. The jurisconsult will likely agree to this, since it means both less work and keeps the meter running. And your paycheck delivered, by the way. Firing you during the pendency of the proceedings is called “reprisal” and is prohibited even if you are as guilty as Jeffrey Dahmer’s grocer.

And Then….

There is a slight chance you will keep your job. But had you not realized that the initial mild missive from HR was in reality a termination in sheep’s clothing you would already have been long gone.