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Dealing With Unreasonable Customers and Complaints

The pandemic brought to the surface many heightened issues of angst and anxiety among the U.S. population. There have been a number of stories of individuals attacking airline crews, grocery workers, and retail attendants. Invariably, this angst has also spilled over to every public and private sector of our nation’s economy. Supervisors and employees are attacked for taking a position regarding vaccine mandates and wearing of masks. Many good public servants have decided to call it quits, instead of being subjected to unruly confrontations. It is sad to see that business resources are drained by individuals who are not in favor of reaching a desired resolution. Instead, these individuals resort to relentless social media attacks or filing multiple complaints to display their anger.

Thankfully, most citizens are still on the right side. That is, there are many good people that focus their energies on the betterment of everyone and the common good. Like my parents, there are good-natured individuals that volunteer their time, give donations to worthy causes, or simply say “thank you” to personnel for their daily efforts.

It is important to note that people do have a right to advocate for themselves if they feel mistreated or ignored. However, such advocacy should not turn into harassment. For every type of complaint, there is an orderly process to hear such complaints. Most individuals do want a quick resolution, which, if possible, should certainly be achieved. However, some do not seek a good resolution, instead their focus is more on filing a complaint that is unreasonable and will not have an easy resolution. There are individuals that have high-conflict personalities that simply do not want to compromise. And, yet others that focus on blaming others,often in highly disrespectful or cruel fashion. There are individuals that demonstrate a persistent pattern of being unsatisfied with results or thrive on media attention.

A good and prudent employee or business owner should be aware of the common techniques by unreasonable complainants in order not to fall prey to an unruly individual’s misguided demands. Some common techniques employed by unreasonable complainants, include, misuse of communication—multiple daily/hourly e-mails and calls; initiation of multiple (sometimes daily)meetings with staff to annoy or harass them; social media posting of allegations; use of extremely escalated language; personal attacks against staff and community members; and use of media to put pressure on a business.

Some of the potential negative impacts of unreasonable complainants, include, distraction from key work of managers; excessive allocation of resources to respond to the complainant without any positive outcome; commensurate lack of resources to deal with other complainants; community distress arising from negative portrayal of business; loss of good employees, becoming undesirable workplace;stress-related workers’ compensation claims from targeted staff; low employee morale because of constant criticism; hostile-work-environment claims from targeted staff who allege that employer has failed to protect them from unreasonable complainants.

The strategies that can be employed by a good employer or business owner to deal with an unreasonable complainant, include establish rules of conduct for complainants or advocates who may assist complainants. The code of conduct should provide that if a complainant fails to follow the code of conduct after two warnings,all further communication will be in writing. This protects staff from abusive in-person conduct during the complaint process; provide administrative staff with tools to address unreasonable or abusive behavior; establish a sequence of steps to limit the impact of an unreasonable complainant,

  1. A written warning describing unacceptable conduct, expected conduct, and consequences if conduct does not improve.
  2. A final warning if inappropriate conduct continues; and
  3. A variety of consequences that the manager can impose if conduct does not improve after final warning,


  1. Allowing only written communication (i.e., no in-person meetings or telephone calls).
  2. Setting restrictions on who complainant may communicate with.
  3.  Setting limitations on time and/or amount of communication; and
  4. Having trespass order in place.
  5. Prepare draft statements that can be modified and used quickly with press.
  6. Have employee’s supervisor meet with the employee to demonstrate support and appreciation for the employee in the face of the unreasonable complaints.
  7. If the situation becomes more extreme, consider providing outside resources for affected employees, including references to an employee assistance program.
  8. The employer might consider supporting an employee who chooses to pursue an individual defamation claim against an unreasonable complainant who persistently and untruthfully attacks the staff person and his or her reputation.This is a complicated issue, and the employer should consult with legal counsel.

As we head into a new year with some anxiety due to the Covid-19 surges, there is a reasonable expectation that some individuals will become unruly at a business. As employers, we should protect employees that are simply doing their job from individuals that feel it is their right to mistreat a well-intentioned employee. In doing so, the employer will comply with their legal requirement to provide a hostile free workplace, and, at the same time, retain employees longer, which only benefits a business’ continuity of services.

By Juan J. Cruz