How To
8 min read

How to Write a Job Complaint Letter That Gets Results Fast

Tiffany Ellis

July 28, 2022

In most any professional career, you will run across a situation where you’re going to need to express dissatisfaction in a professional manner. Whether you’re at the beginning of your career or you’re years into one and this is the first time you’ve ever had to deal with a negative situation with a job or a client, nearly everyone faces this eventually.

There are various scenarios where the need to express this dissatisfaction could take place, including but not limited to:

  • Bullying
  • Your professional skills not being used effectively
  • Being micromanaged inappropriately for your skill level
  • Your work schedule being inconvenient or not as promised
  • Being underpaid
  • A coworker violating safety standards that put you or others in danger
  • Discrimination
  • Harassment 
  • Intimidation
  • Poor or dangerous facilities, equipment, etc

Regardless of the reason, you may have choice words for your employer or your client that aren’t exactly something you would want to be recorded and put on TikTok for all to see. 

In this guide, we’re going to show you how to craft an email that gets your point across professionally and without any content that could potentially embarrass you down the road after it’s all over. If you’re not ready to write a resignation letter, but need a critical work problem addressed, this is how to do it. 

Why you should put your complaint in writing

Even if you’ve already made several verbal complaints to your employer or your client, you should always put your complaints in writing, even if they seem to be minor at the time. Written complaints are more likely to be taken seriously, partially because writing them out takes more effort than simply speaking them and because they’re easier to prove in court. 

Here are a few benefits of submitting a formal written complaint. 

It creates a paper trail

When you provide your employer or client with a written complaint, it can be easily proven to anyone that they were made aware of the issue. In 2022, written complaints should be delivered via email, because it creates a record on both the server that sent the message and the one that receives it that the message exists.

It increases the likelihood that your complaint will be taken seriously because the complaint exists in more than just a verbal form.

It shows that you’re serious

A written complaint shows your employer or client that you’re serious about your grievance and that if pressed, there could be real consequences for their inaction. These consequences could either be you quitting or worse, taking the matter to an attorney and seeking legal recourse. If it does go to court, the court will be made aware that you sought to remedy the situation before bringing it to them.

It may make benefits available to you

If you’re with a company that has a Human Resources department, bringing the matter to their attention may enable you to make use of benefits you may not have known existed. In the case of a situation directly affecting your physical or mental health, HR may make additional time off available to you or they may make other accommodations. 

You have time to collect your thoughts

Writing a letter gives you time in private to form your thoughts about the situation and craft a document that can be used constructively by the person you’re sending it to. This is better than trying to talk to them face to face where you may be stressed to the point that any attempt you make to communicate your issue to them is ineffective.

Whether you’re primarily feeling anger, fear, or something else, taking the time to write it out can help you temper those emotions and get your points across clearly.

Who do you write your complaint letter to?

Depending on your situation, who you write your complaint letter to can be very different. If you’re a freelancer with an individual as a client, then you would write it directly to them. If your client is a company and you have multiple points of contact that you deal with, you would write it to the person with the authority necessary to do something or reach someone who can. 

But, if you’re working for a medium or large company, it may not be immediately clear who you should be speaking with. Some companies have dedicated Human Resources departments, while others do not. Before you pen the first word of your complaint, you should find out who you need to address, because how you write your letter is heavily dependent upon who you’ll be dealing with from there forward.

Be careful with your language

It’s often said that using profanity and expletives are unprofessional and even though that’s true, it’s not the primary reason why you don’t want to use them in your complaint letter. This is very much a case of “if you don’t want someone to know something, don’t write it down” and if your complaint letter contains any offensive or threatening language, it can be used against you later in court should the situation escalate to that point. 

Additionally, some companies will have a policy of not dealing with letters that contain profanity. Email clients can be set up to filter out and automatically trash anything that contains commonly used offensive words. This is done to protect their employees from abuse.

You don’t want to send anyone a letter that you wrote while you were angry or otherwise emotionally compromised. You want to write from a mental state of righteous indignation, not anger. 

In general, you should avoid the following in any official letter:

  • Abusive or offensive language
  • Personal insults toward anyone involved
  • Overt or thinly veiled threats of violence

None of these things will help you successfully plead your case and anything that could be construed as a threat could be forwarded to your local authorities. A mugshot looks horrible on a resume. 

Be grammatically correct

You’re taking the time to write out a formal complaint letter, so you need to make sure it’s free of grammar and spelling mistakes. Tools like Grammarly exist now, so fixing these mistakes is much easier than it used to be even just 5 years ago. 

In a fair world, your complaint would be received and treated the same regardless of these issues, but that’s often not the case. At best, your complaint won’t be treated as seriously as it should be, and at worst, it may not even be read at all.

Stick to the details and the facts

Don’t be vague at all in your letter. You want to give enough detail that what you’re complaining about isn’t going to be confused with something else. If you have more than one thing to complain about, you want to separate each one of these into its own section, but be careful not to turn in a novel. Something that is too long is going to overwhelm your recipient

You also want to be sure that everything that you state in your letter is based on reality and facts. What you’re arguing shouldn’t be subjective at all. 

As an example, if you were sexually harassed, you want to ideally have the following information:

  • How you were harassed
  • Who harassed you (be specific, give a name, job title, etc)
  • How many times you’ve been harassed (listed in order with detail, if possible)
  • Where it happened and if there should be camera footage of any or all incidents
  • Names of witnesses
  • If you’ve made management aware of it before and their response to you, if any
  • Any attempts you’ve made to remedy the situation on your own

All of this is important to include, particularly if you’ve made anyone in authority over you aware of the situation and what their response was.

Don’t make allegations you can’t prove

When writing your letter, you want to stick to facts and things that you have evidence of, not accusations that could possibly be proven false later. 

Things that can assist in proving your allegations can include, but are not limited to:

  • Text messages
  • Emails (forward a copy of any relevant emails)
  • Recorded phone calls (where legal)
  • Call logs
  • Videos
  • Photos
  • Screenshots
  • Witness statements

Is it affecting your work?

If you’re experiencing trouble doing your work because of the issue you’re complaining about, definitely list not only that it’s affecting your work, but also how it’s affecting it. 

In cases of harassment, intimidation, or micromanagement, it can make it hard to concentrate on what you’re doing for the company if you’re preoccupied with wondering when you’ll be bothered again. Sexual harassment in particular has been linked to negative impacts on employee health and productivity

If your complaint is related to inadequate equipment, then you should explain why it’s negatively affecting your work. A good example is a company using a 15-year-old computer that still runs Windows Vista. 

Using the example of the old PC, is it causing you downtime where you’re being paid to do nothing while your computer is frozen for 45 minutes? Is there better software that you could be using that won’t run on your computer’s current operating system? 

Don’t Make Unreasonable Demands

Your complaint letter isn’t a place for you to make unreasonable demands of your employer or your client. One of the biggest mistakes people make in complaint letters is demanding that someone be fired. 

First, when you demand that someone be fired, it comes across as unprofessional, as it isn’t your place to determine what should happen within that relationship. In your complaint letter, you should be presenting enough evidence to support your grievance that your employer can make a decision on whether the person in question is someone they should discipline or let go. If you ultimately disagree with their decision, it’s your right to quit and if appropriate, sue. 

This may or may not be a simple thing for the person you’re addressing to do. Even if you’re speaking to the owner of the business, there may be a legal process to go through before that person can be fired. 

Don’t make assumptions about responsibility

If you’re making a complaint within a medium to large company, it’s very likely that the person who will end up reading your complaint has no knowledge of anything going on. They may not know you, the person, or the situation you’re speaking of and therefore shouldn’t be treated as if they’re the one responsible for the problem. Avoid blaming the entire company for the actions of only one or two of your coworkers. 

Identify whether laws or company policies were violated

Is what you’re complaining about against the law or just against company policy? If it is, this is something that you should clearly state in your complaint. Be certain that it’s a violation of the law or company policy first, then be able to cite the relevant text as evidence. If you can’t show that what you’re complaining about is against either one, you shouldn’t mention that you simply believe it is.

If what is occurring is illegal, such as sexual harassment or discrimination based on race, sex, etc, be sure to state that it is and list any relevant legislation that proves this. 

Here is a short list of common complaints that are against the law:

  • Failure to pay wages
  • Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin
  • Harassment
  • Refusal to accommodate your medically recognized disabilities

Provide a reasonable solution and call to action

Did you know that 47% of HR leaders say that retaining employees and employee turnover is their biggest challenge? They don’t want you to quit over a problem that’s easily remedied, because finding and training employees costs money. 

“Call to action” is typically associated with sales environments, but you should include one in your complaint letter. In this case, it fits because you’re calling your client, manager, HR, etc to do something to remedy the situation. It’s best if you provide them a pre-packaged solution, though. 

They’re going to be more likely to help you if you can propose a solution to them. This eliminates work on their end trying to find one, plus the back and forth between them and you to agree on what needs to happen. By doing this, you’re more likely to get the outcome you’re looking for with a minimal amount of effort required on their part. 

Going back to the old computer example we used earlier, it would be simple to provide a link to an adequate pre-built desktop computer on Amazon as a solution. If there’s a better software solution than what your company has you using right now, provide a link to it, as well. Often if you can make the numbers make sense to someone who has decision-making ability, you can get what you need. 

As stated before, however, your call to action should not be an unreasonable demand such as saying that someone should be fired. 

Conclusion

Being able to craft a complaint letter that is professional, succinct, and constructive for both you and the party you’re addressing it to is an important part of business communications. It can mean the difference between you getting your issue resolved in a manner best for both parties.

This article is part of an ongoing series on how to write. It includes topics such as:

How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation

How to Write a Recommendation Letter for a Student

How to Write White Papers

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