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How to Handle Employee Complaints: The AIRR Model

Acknowledge. Investigate. Resolve. Report. Find out how the AIRR Model can help you better address employee complaints.

Posted by Adil Munim on August 8th, 2017


Employee complaints can arise at any time.

Ranging in scope from workplace hazards, such as exposed wiring, to more serious incidents, such as sexual harassment issues, employee complaints must be dealt with appropriately and in a timely manner.

Improperly addressing employee complaints can lead to long-term issues for your organization.

Check out these other Best Practices for Handling Complaints.

Employees who feel unheard or ignored may lose confidence in their company, retaliate against management or quit their jobs.

These actions can harm overall employee morale and productivity levels.

However, implementing a proactive approach to handle complaints can protect your company from these negative consequences.


The AIRR Model outlines a comprehensive set of steps that can be followed to address any employee complaint that arises. The model is founded on four basic steps:

  • Acknowledge
  • Investigate
  • Resolve
  • Report

Within each of these steps is a series of smaller tasks that must be completed to ensure that complaints are being appropriately addressed.

The AIRR Model can help prevent damage to your company’s productivity, reputation and employee morale. Simultaneously, it can help you build a stronger organizational culture of trust and loyalty.



Inform the Complainant

Once the complaint has been received (through an ethics hotline, employee complaint form, etc.), you should let the complainant know that you have seen their complaint and that it will be addressed in a timely manner.

Download this Employee Complaint Form Template and properly document your employees’ formal complaint.


Triage the Complaint

Assess the complaint and determine its priority level. Some issues of higher priority may need be dealt with as soon as possible.


Launch an Investigation

Create a formal investigation file, fill in all the relevant details and develop an investigation plan that can help you navigate the investigative process.


Looking for a centralized system to triage, track and document employee complaints?
Book a demo to learn how i-Sight can help you streamline these tasks.






Review the Complaint

Asses the complaint again to re-familiarize yourself with the incident. Determine the scope of the investigation at this stage and identify what exactly is being investigated.


Determine the Basic Facts

Identify what happened, who was involved (including witnesses), when the incident occurred, where the incident occurred and how the incident occurred according to the complainant. Avoid making any conclusions at this stage of the investigation as the information provided by the complainant represents only one perspective.


Collect Evidence

In some cases, you may need to collect evidence to determine the validity of the complaint and how it should be addressed. There are several different types of evidence that may be relevant for the complaint. You may need to photograph physical evidence in the workplace or obtain digital evidence (such as emails or security camera footage).

Collecting evidence should help you determine whether the complainant’s version of the story accurately reflects what happened.


Interview the Complainant

If there were any details missing from the initial complaint, ask the complainant to provide them. Ask questions to understand more about the situation or incident, including how the complainant was affected and whether the issue is still ongoing.

Remind the complainant that their anonymity will be preserved as much as possible and that the complaint will be addressed appropriately once a thorough investigation has been completed.


Learn the best way to interview the complainant by downloading our 8 Tips for Interviewing the Reporter cheat sheet.


Interview Other Parties/Witnesses

While maintaining the anonymity of the complainant, discuss the situation with others who may have been affected, including witnesses and the subject of the complaint (if there is one). Ask them to provide their recollection of the incident and how they feel about the situation.

Determine whether there are any discrepancies between the complainant’s account and the accounts of other employees.


Conclude the Investigation

Once all interviews have been conducted and sufficient evidence has been collected, the investigator must determine whether the incident occurred and how it occurred. Remember that an investigation without a clear conclusion is a failed investigation.


Download the Investigation Report Template to help organize the evidence and additional findings in a clear and concise manner.




Address the Complaint

Review whether or not the incident occurred, how it occurred and how it should be resolved. Use the investigation findings to determine the best course of action that will prevent similar complaints in the future.


Inform the Affected Parties

Discuss the results of the investigation and the subsequent course of action with all affected parties. This will include the complainant, and in some cases, the subject of the complaint and their supervisor.


Don’t forget any steps when addressing employee complaints, download The AIRR Model Checklist today.



Summarize the Investigation

Compile the information you collected during the investigation. Be concise and include only the details that played a role in identifying if the incident occurred, determining how it occurred and resolving the complaint. This information will likely be obtained from the investigation report.


Document the Decision

In addition to the investigation report that was completed, ensure that separate documentation is created to support the complaint itself, how it was received, how it impacts the company and the steps being taken to resolve the issue. This documentation should also explain why a particular course of action was chosen. Senior managers should be able to clearly understand how the action taken resolves the complaint and reflects the company’s policies and values.



Once the report has been completed, ensure that the issue has been fully resolved. For example, if a workplace hazard was the source of an employee complaint, follow-up to confirm that the hazard is no longer posing a threat to staff members.


Adil Munim
Adil Munim

Marketing Writer

Adil is a former marketing writer at i-Sight. He writes on topics that range from fraud, corporate security and workplace investigations to corporate culture, ethics and compliance.

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