POLICY STATEMENT
Complaints Handling
Version:         2014-01 - Issue Date:   29.01.2014 - Issued By:     Maximize Church

Approval

This policy has been approved by the Senior Pastor and Leadership of Maximize Church.  References to the policy may be included in information we provide to visitors, church members, church employees, and those whom we serve in the local community.

Enquiries

If you have any enquiries about the content or operation of this policy, please contact the church’s office by phone 02 9654 1121 or email info@maximize.org.au  

Complaint Handling

Policy Statement

Maximize Church recognises that the manner in which complaints are handled is important in order to ensure the well-being of the complainant and to protect the good reputation of the church.

Maximize Church is therefore committed to providing effective, efficient, fair, prompt and transparent handling of all complaints.  Complainants will be treated respectfully, with confidentiality and with sensitivity.  Complaints will be investigated thoroughly and dealt with according to the merits of the complaint. 

Policy Scope

This policy applies to the management of complaints made by both internal parties (church members, leaders, staff and volunteers) and external parties (visitors to the church and the community generally).  Complaints made in accordance with this policy may include:

      breaches of the ACC Ministerial Code of Conduct

      breaches of the church’s Constitution (Rules of Incorporation)

      discrimination

      harassment, bullying or intimidation

      emotional, psychological or spiritual abuse

IMPORTANT:  this policy does NOT apply to management of complaints relating to any kind of abuse involving children, which must be referred to the church’s child protection policy and procedures which have been formulated specifically to address this area.

This policy does NOT override requirements for reporting of incidents of a criminal nature, such as physical or sexual abuse.  Complaints alleging such behaviour should be reported to police.

Making A Complaint

Initial access to the complaints process may initially be made via a letter, fax, email, phone call, or in person, to a senior representative of the church (i.e. either to a board member or the senior pastor).  Once a complaint is formalised however, it must be made in writing.

The recipient of a complaint should always keep in mind that complainants typically want:

      to be heard and understood;

      to be taken seriously;

      to be respected;

      to be given an explanation;

      to be given an apology (where appropriate); and

      to get prompt action and resolution

Confidentiality

Written complaints will be considered by the church Board at their regular meetings.  Those responsible for implementing this policy will keep confidential the name of the complainant and details of the complaint, except where disclosure is necessary as part of the disciplinary or corrective process.  Board members are obliged to ensure that all information remains confidential and is not disclosed to other church members, staff or other parties.

Fairness

The complaint handling process recognises the need to be transparently fair to all parties to a dispute: the complainant, the respondent and the church itself.

The process is broadly based on the parties’ right to:

      be heard;

      know whether the church’s policies and procedures have been followed;

      provide and access all relevant material needed to support and resolve the complaint;

      be informed of policies and procedures, including options for further review;

      be informed of the response made by the respondent;

      be informed of the church’s decisions and the reasons for those decisions; and

      know that the complaint has been subject to independent review

External Reporting

In cases where a complaint is deemed to be serious (e.g. where criminal charges might conceivably arise or where legal action might later be taken) the church’s insurance company should be formally notified of the details of the complaint.

Minimising Disputes

The following general guidelines should be considered for receiving and handling complaints:

      identify yourself, listen carefully and make notes

      check details with the complainant as you write your notes

      get specific details of events (generalities are difficult to investigate)

      be empathetic (without taking sides)

      always be courteous

      don’t argue or be defensive

      don’t lay the blame on one party or the other

      explain the various courses of action (informal and formal complaints – see below)

      ensure that the complaint is promptly referred to an appropriate authority (pastor or board)

Concerning Matthew 18:15–17

15 If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'

17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

You will note in the section below (Informal Complaints) that complainants may be encouraged to attempt to resolve the matter themselves by directly addressing their complaint to the respondent, a process broadly in line with the intent of Matthew 18.

One should note however that some people may feel unable to follow such a procedure, or may have already tried unsuccessfully to resolve the dispute or disagreement themselves, and therefore they need the support of this formal complaint handling policy.

People outside the church also need to have a process for registering a complaint and we ought not to expect non-Christians to observe our Christian dispute resolution principles.


Procedures

Informal Complaints

A complainant may make an initial, informal approach to a pastor or board member in order to discuss a possible complaint.  Some information will necessarily be provided in order to clarify the nature of the complaint.

The person approached should clarify whether the complainant is seeking information, assistance with mediation, or simply wishes to talk the matter through to obtain an additional perspective.

Wherever possible, the complainant should be encouraged to first attempt to resolve the matter themselves by speaking directly with the respondent to the complaint.  It should be noted that in serious cases, where such an attempt has already been made and has failed, or where the complainant feels unable to deal directly with the respondent without support, such an attempt at early resolution may not be feasible.

If the senior pastor or board member approached is unable to act impartially due to any real or perceived conflict (perhaps due to a close friendship with either the complainant or the respondent), he/she should make this known to the complainant and nominate another person who is better placed to assist.

The person chosen as mediator must act in an impartial manner and promote resolution of the complaint through discussion aimed at reaching understanding and agreement.

Respect is to be shown to all parties (complainant, mediator and respondent).

The complaint is still to be considered to be informal at this stage.

Formal Complaints

A formal complaint may arise independently, or as a result of an informal complaint that has not been successfully resolved.  Formal complaints must be made in writing and must be signed by the complainant.  Anonymous complaints will not be considered, due to the inability of the Board to validate the information received.

Written allegations should then be summarised and provided to the respondent, who will be given an opportunity to respond.

Mediation may be attempted if the Board deems it to be a suitable method of pursuing resolution and if both parties (complainant and respondent) agree to participate.  If necessary, an external mediator may be sought.

If mediation fails or is not feasible, an investigation may be undertaken, with the nomination of a suitable investigator and appropriate methodology to be decided on by the Board.  The investigator will prepare a brief report with recommendations for resolution to be considered by the Board.

In accordance with natural justice, a copy of the report will be made available to the complainant.

Where allegations relate to criminal misconduct of an employee or church member, the Board may suspend the employee or church member pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.


Time Limits

The objective should be to reach a timely resolution of all complaints:

      informal complaints – within three (3) months of date of receipt

      formal complaints – within six (6) months of date of receipt

Remedies and Disciplinary Action

The Board of Maximize Church has the initial responsibility and capacity to determine and implement remedies and/or disciplinary action as a result of the investigation of a formal complaint.

Remedies may include actions such as:

      changing church policies and procedures

      issuing of a formal warning

      requirement to undergo counselling

      requirement to issue a formal apology

      imposition of a ‘behaviour contract’

      suspension or termination of employment

      suspension or termination of church membership

or other similar forms of action.

Appeals

If the respondent chooses to appeal the findings or remedies associated with a formal complaint, a written appeal may be submitted for consideration by a panel comprising Board members not involved in the initial investigation and/or external reviewers.

The appeal panel may endorse the initial report, or may recommend another course of action.

External Appeals

If either party involved in the complaint is dissatisfied with the outcome of the complaints process or an appeal panel finding, they may take the complaint to their ACC State Office and request further investigation:

The Secretary
ACC NSW State Office
PO Box 6747
Baulkham Hills NSW 2153