Termination and Disciplinary Forum: Customer Complaints

When an employer terminates an employee for multiple or severe customer complaints the hurdle that must be scaled is obtaining first hand testimony from the complaining party. Many times, the complaint is from a client, patient, or service provider. When it comes to clients, I rarely find that the employer is willing to drag in a person who already complained about the company, to an unemployment hearing. In cases of vendors or suppliers, they are often too busy to change their schedules and leave their place of work to attend or participate in an unemployment hearing. There are many technical difficulties, mobility difficulties and liability when moving them.

Another example is a complaint from a co-worker. This is also a rock and hard spot. You do not want to cultivate an atmosphere where one co-worker starts to harbor resentment toward another. That can be very dangerous in today’s society.
So, what can an employer do? To start with, you can obtain a statement in writing from the complaining party. Have the complaining party write the statement or have another person write the statement for them if they are unable, in the case sometimes of patients. I always recommend that you have typed on the bottom of the paper, before they write their statement:

“This statement is made under oath and affirmation of truth, nothing but the truth, in accordance with (name the state) governing laws. The statement(s) are not made under duress or coercion. These statements are to serve in my place if my appearance if it becomes necessary and I am unavailable to fulfill this request.”

The next step is the most important, have a notary sign the complaint.

If a notary of public is not available, have at minimum, a third-party sign as a witness to the statement. If you do not have a statement your next best step is to have the manager or supervisor who received the complaint, attend or participate in the hearing to be a second-hand witness. The first-hand witness is the person who saw the act or actions first hand, or directly heard the act or actions evoking the complaint. The once removed supervisor from the direct supervisor who wrote or heard the complaint holds little weight when providing creditable testimony. More often than not this testimony is dismissed as hearsay or mere affirmation of the employer file.

In all cases where a statement or a supervisor in opposed to the actual person complaining, the hurdle or problem is that their testimony cannot be cross examined or questioned. The way to assure a successful outcome at an unemployment hearing when the termination resulted from complaints is a notarized signed statement by the complaining party.


When to terminate for complaints:

If the complaint has violated a rule that is written company policy or a violation of law the employees conduct rises to a level of gross misconduct and can be terminated upon first offense. In most cases of complaints, two complaints followed up by written warning start the process. The next complaint warrants a second written warning and/or a suspension accompanied by a direct statement that the next complaint offense will result in termination. A single future complaint can result in termination with a written statement, warning, outlining the complaint.

Many employers terminate at the second offense out of concern for loss of business. Hire, Fire, Termination and Unemployment are costs of business but not your primary business. I always tell employers to guard against UI costs but manage your primary business first, try to do all documentation and warnings in order and in writing but there are times when you perform a termination and will happily lose the unemployment claim as the lesser of the two evils.


Article Written by UCM Specialists UI Legal Advocate Team.