Managing unreasonable conduct by a complainant

This manual is designed to help organisations and their staff take a systematic and consistent approach to managing their interactions with people engaging in unreasonable conduct. It provides a series of suggestions and strategies to assist all staff members – not just frontline officers – to appropriately interact with all people they come in contact with in the course of their work, particularly those who are perceived to be behaving unreasonably. The strategies have been developed by complaint handlers for complaint handlers – and although the focus of this manual is on the public sector, the suggested strategies can be equally applicable to private sector situations.

The key issue in this manual was first addressed by the NSW Ombudsman in a publication in 1998 entitled ‘Dealing with Difficult Complainants’. In 2006 all Australian Parliamentary Ombudsman agreed to pilot a new approach to categorising and managing what we referred to as ‘difficult complainants’. This pilot project let to an interim practice manual being published in 2007, with the first edition of the practice manual being published in 2009 and the second edition in 2012 – both titled ‘Managing Unreasonable Complainant Conduct’. To highlight the importance of not labelling individuals and focusing on the conduct not the person, this edition of the practice manual has been renamed ‘Managing Unreasonable Conduct by a Complainant’.

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You can also download the full 3rd edition of the manual.

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