Unreasonable Complainant Conduct

 

POLICY STATEMENT

The Ombudsman is committed to being accessible and responsive when dealing with the public and taking complaints. We expect our staff to be respectful, provide clear and reasoned information to the public; and we recognise that people making complaints to us may be stressed, frustrated or upset. However, we do not tolerate behaviour that is offensive, abusive, threatening or consumes disproportionate resources. Where this is the case, we may take steps to reduce any detrimental impact of such behaviour on our staff, our office’s productivity and resources. 

What is ‘unreasonable complainant conduct’?

  1. ‘Unreasonable complainant conduct’ is a shorthand term used by Ombudsman offices across Australia to mean any behaviour by a complainant which, because of its nature or frequency, raises substantial health, safety, resource or equity issues for an organisation, its staff and other service users. The focus of the term is on ‘the conduct’ rather than ‘the complainant’.
  2. ‘Unreasonable complainant conduct’ can include:
  • repeated contact by a complainant after we have comprehensively considered and finalised their complaint
  • persistent demands by a complainant on how VO should handle a complaint, the priority it should be given, or the outcome that should be achieved
  • a continual unwillingness by a complainant to cooperate with our staff and processes
  • constant and repeated arguments by complainants that are not based on reason or logic, that are incomprehensible, false, inflammatory or trivial
  • acts of aggression, verbal abuse, derogatory, racist or defamatory remarks.
  1. ‘Unreasonable complainant conduct’ is not limited to telephone communications or face-to-face interactions. It can occur over the internet, on social media, in public locations or in written correspondence.
  2. ‘Unreasonable complainant conduct’ is behaviour that disproportionately and unreasonably impacts either our staff, services, time and/or resources.

Why do we need ‘unreasonable complainant conduct’ management strategies?

  1. VO serves the public interest, therefore it is imperative that we be accountable and accessible to members of the public who wish to complain to us.
  2. We value good communication and aim to assist complainants where possible. Our front line staff are skilled in dealing with complex issues and taking preventative measures when complainants display behaviour that is unreasonable, before escalating the issue to more senior officers in VO.
  3. VO is not an emergency or crisis service, and our officers do not offer specialised crisis support. Our expertise is complaint handling, not diagnosing the motivation behind a complainant’s behaviour.
  4. However, we will take practical steps and implement management strategies to reduce or mitigate the impact of unreasonable conduct to ensure staff wellbeing, proper use of our resources and productivity within the office. VO will usually issue a warning to a complainant who is behaving unreasonably, and provide them with an opportunity to cease the behaviour before we implement more formal management strategies.
  5. At the same time, we will ensure that we properly consider the subject matter of the complaint.
  6. The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 sets out the rights, freedoms and responsibilities shared by everyone in Victoria. When we consider implementing strategies to best manage ‘unreasonable complainant conduct’, the following rights may be affected:
  • recognition and equality before the law (section 8)
  • freedom of expression (section 15)
  • taking part in public life (section 18).
This list is not exhaustive and other rights in the Charter may apply depending on the circumstances.
 
  1. Section 7(2) of the Charter allows for VO to limit or restrict a human right provided it is reasonable and justified, taking into consideration the following criteria:
  • the nature of the right
  • the importance of the purpose of the limitation
  • the nature and extent of the limitation
  • the relationship between the limitation and its purpose; and
  • any less restrictive means reasonably available to achieve the purpose that the limitation seeks to achieve.

How do we respond to and manage ‘unreasonable complainant conduct’?

  1. Before we make a decision to limit a complainant’s contact with VO, we take less formal steps such as warnings and apologies where appropriate, to manage the  conduct.
  2. Our formal management strategies are applied sparingly. Our management strategies are applied in cases where the conduct has become a barrier to dealing with the subject of the complaint, and the complainant’s conduct raises safety, resource and equity issues.
  3. To manage these incidents, we may limit or adapt the ways a complainant interacts with the office by restricting:
  • whom they have contact with – for example, limiting a complainant to a single contact person
  • what issues we will respond to – for example, restricting the subject matter of a complaint unless it raises new issues that warrant investigation
  • when a complainant can have contact
  • where they can make contact – limiting the location where we will conduct face-to-face interviews
  • how they make contact – for example, limiting or modifying the ways a complainant can contact us.
  1. We will use our discretion to adapt strategies to suit a complainant’s personal circumstances or special needs, and level of literacy skills, for example. More than one strategy may need to be used in individual cases.
  2. Instances of ‘unreasonable complainant conduct’ must be recorded or documented and considered prior to implementing a management strategy.
  3. In all instances, we will inform a complainant of when and why a management strategy is to be implemented. The complainant is able, as is the case with all of our decisions, to request a review of a restriction or limitation placed on them (see our ‘Complaints about the Ombudsman’ policy for more information).
  4. We periodically review management strategies to reassess whether the strategy is still effective and relevant. We will tell complainants when their strategy will be reviewed. In some circumstances, we may write to the complainant advising them of any changes to restrictions on contacting the office.
  5. In rare circumstances, we receive threats from individuals that they will harm themselves or others. When this occurs, we may contact the appropriate authority (such as Victoria Police) to report the threat.

Roles and Responsibilities

Role
Responsibility
Manager, Human Rights Portfolio
This policy (PO_SF_08) is compatible with the human rights protected by the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities 2006
Assistant Director, Portfolios & Administrative Improvement
Policy owner
Governance Committee
Policy authorisation

This policy is a guide only and is not legal advice.  Staff should refer to relevant legislation.