Workplace Bullying Adverse Action

Workplace Bullying Adverse Action – This article was originally published on HR Daily, I am republishing it here for those that do not subscribe, if you don’t subscribe I highly recommend that you do for some great articles and information.
More details of the story here – Financial Review 9 September 2020

The former CEO of human capital services provider Harrier Group is alleging the company subjected her to bullying and an excessive workload, and that her dismissal amounted to adverse action after she complained about the issues.

In a statement of claim lodged with the Federal Circuit Court, Kelly Quirk is seeking unspecified compensation as well as a pecuniary penalty against Harrier, alleging her investigation for company credit card misuse – which led to her termination in May for serious misconduct – was a “vexatious” response to her bullying grievances against the company chair.

In supporting documents, Quirk claims she was subject to repeated instances of workplace bullying, including by way of the chair’s alleged failure to address the mental health impacts of her workload.

She claims to have been suffering “extreme stress and anxiety”, exacerbated by “63 flights and over 103 nights in hotels” in one year, and working more than 70 hours every week.

The issues appeared to escalate after a decision to reduce Quirk’s $350k salary earlier this year.

But Harrier’s HR manager, who is named as a respondent to the claim, conducted a preliminary review into Quirk’s complaints and found they did not meet the threshold for an external investigation, nor require any further follow up, court filings show.

He said there was insufficient information to support the bullying allegations and described some of the incidents complained of as “reasonable management action”. The claim is set for a first hearing in Perth on 6 October.

Lesson for employers

  1. Think very carefully before making a judgement that a complaint “did not meet the threshold for an external investigation, nor require any further follow up.”
  2. Make sure that you are able to back up findings such as “there was insufficient information to support the bullying allegations”
  3. Make sure that you have sufficient evidence to support your judgement that incident/s complained of were consistent with the definition of “reasonable management action”
  4. Carefully review any decision not investigate internally or externally or to make follow up enquiries
  5. The cost of  an investigation can be a lot less than being subjected to litigation.
  6. When engaging an external investigator, get the best, check the experience and qualification of your chosen investigator.
  7.  Who is the best choice
    * HR Consultants provide a wide variety of HR services but many do not have investigation training, expertise and experience
    * Mediators well they mediate.
    * Lawyers know the law and may be very good advocates but again many (not all) do not have investigation training, expertise and experience
    * Investigators, they investigate, seems like the choice is clear,

In regard to point 1 – I would like to know what scale was applied to reach the conclusion that the complaints did not reach the threshold for action.  Where is this threshold, what is the scale, who makes this judgment, who reviews this judgement?

A thorough investigation conducted by a professional, skilled and qualified workplace investigator should always be considered when complaints of bullying are raised.

When the matters involve any employee but especially senior managers/employees it is important that your findings are based on solid evidence obtained in the thorough investigation, evidence that will withstand the scrutiny of a court.

If in doubt call an expert, Australian Workplace Training & Investigation (AWPTI) can assist –

AWPTI – workplace investigation Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide

Misconduct investigations, bullying investigations, harassment investigations & sexual harassment investigations, complaint investigations, grievance investigations, discrimination investigations