How to handle a formal complaint against a deputy

Very rarely, a formal complaint is lodged about a deputy’s behavior while serving in the Community Team deputy role. Here is a description of the procedure for responding to those complaints.

Stage One: Inform relevant parties and set up communication protocols if needed.

  1. Identify who will be overseeing the review process. This person will ensure that the procedure is being followed and that the process doesn’t stall or get stuck. This should be a deputy with experience in successful mediations and incident response. 
  2. Reply to the person reporting the incident or behavior, letting them know we are investigating the report.
  3. Establish the basic credibility of the complaint by talking to other deputies who are familiar with the reporter and the deputy in question.
  4. Then inform the deputy that there is a formal complaint against them based on their deputy work, and ask them to refrain from participating in the program as a deputy until the investigation was complete and a decision has been reached. Example: “I’m writing to inform you that we’ve received a formal complaint about your deputy work. I can’t share the origin of the complaint right now, but I’d rather you not start any new deputy work until we have a way forward. I’ll be convening a group of deputies to review the complaint and resolve it. Do you have any questions?
  5. Then determine a shortlist of possible candidates to serve on a review board of 3-7 people. Candidates should be active deputies (at least 1 year of active deputy work) who can review the case impartially.

Stage Two: Call the review board, set the goals, and investigate.

1. Reach out to all candidates for the independent review board with this message. Example:

We’ve received a formal complaint against a deputy. Would you be willing to join a group of experienced deputies that we’ll be pulling together, to review the circumstances and discuss a response? I’d pull everyone into a DM group, brief you all, and then either discuss asynchronously or set a time to chat if needed. The group I’m trying to recruit includes you, NAME, NAME, NAME, NAME, and NAME

2. When a group of experienced deputies has agreed to serve on the review board, create a DM group for them in wp.org slackSlack Slack is a Collaborative Group Chat Platform https://slack.com/. The WordPress community has its own Slack Channel at https://make.wordpress.org/chat/. and set them the following tasks. Example:

Hello my friends, and thank you for being willing to join this review panel. We’ve received a formal complaint about DEPUTY NAME from COMPLAINANT. The procedure, in this case, is to convene a panel of experienced community team deputies with the mission of reviewing the complaint and the circumstances surrounding it, and determining the best course of action. As a reminder, please guard strict confidentiality on this matter. Please read over the following details and let me know if you have enough information to agree on a course of action, or if you need additional information. I can gather additional information for you, as needed. Text of the complaint email follows: COMPLAINT

Next steps:

1. I’d like to inform NAME that we’ve received a formal complaint about their behavior, and that I have a group of experienced deputies reviewing it. Does anyone have concerns about this person knowing that you’re on this review board?
2. I’d like to finish collecting information about the complaint, to provide you.
3. I’d like you to tell me what other information, context, or background you might need, to decide whether you recommend keeping DEPUTYNAME in this program in their current role and level of responsibility.

3. Once the members of the panel consent, inform the deputy who is under investigation about this step. Example:

A panel of experienced deputies has convened to review the complaint and recommend next steps. The people on the panel are: NAME, NAME, NAME, NAME, and NAME. They will all guard confidentiality in this matter. Do you feel confident about the impartiality of that panel?

4. The review panel should read the complaint and create a list of questions for the deputy and the complainant. Share the questions in different google documents, asking each party to answer in the documents. When you receive the answers to the questions, Make a NEW copy of the text, review both sets of answers for accuracy as well as possible. In places where answers needed more context or contained false information, note that in a comment on the google doc.

Stage Three: Content discussion and results

  1. After everyone has read through the answers to the questions and everyone’s comments in the docs, the review board should hold a meeting. The agenda could be:

Recap on purpose of this group – Decision(s)

Straw poll: Should PERSON stay on as deputy? Yes, No, Don’t knowWhy a straw poll so early?  We have all been reading a lot, thinking, and commenting.  Some of us, if not all of us, might have an opinion on this question.

Round Robin: 
After reading through documents and comments, what are your reasons for your vote? Let’s go in order of the screen. 

Are there any questions left, that need to be answered before the group can agree on a decision?

Next Steps?

2. Based on the results of the vote, create a list of possible sets of next steps that the group could then discuss asynchronously and create a plan together. Next steps should include:

  • If the panel decides that the complaint has no merit, inform all parties of this decision and answer any concerns directly, in writing and possibly via video conference.
  • If the panel decides a deputy should be reprimanded and asked to change their behavior but maintain their role, inform all parties of this decision and answer any concerns directly, in writing and possibly via video conference.
  • If the panel decides a deputy should be asked to step away from the deputy role, determine a sequence of next steps for that process, including changing that person’s access to tools needed for deputy work, as well as informing all parties of this decision and answering any concerns directly, in writing and possibly via video conference. 
  • Publish a report on make/community, which should include the names of the people who responded to the complaint but not the name(s) of the person/people who complained, and not the name(s) of the deputy/deputies whose behavior was investigated. 

Reasons a contributor might be asked to step away from their role as a deputy:

  1. Malfeasance, which may include attempted or actual fraud, or other intentional action that injures or seeks to injure an individual or group, while carrying out the responsibilities of a deputy. 
  2. Failure to meet community team expectations for a deputy, even after the deputy has been asked to change a behavior. “Deal-breaker” behavior includes:
    1. Anything that does not match the expectations on the Representing WordPress handbook page.
    2. Communicating with contributors (including community organizers, speakers, sponsors, volunteers) and fellow community team members in a demeaning, disrespectful, or deceptive way.
    3. Breaking confidentiality of the community team support queue, incident investigation and resolution process, or other sensitive/personally identifiable information accessed while performing the duties of a deputy.
    4. Recommending that organizers or contributors work in a way that intentionally defrauds the community team or undermines community team goals.