Complaint handling

Complaint handling can be a difficult part of HR, what to do, what approach to take, how do you decide?

Getting it wrong when it comes to handling complaints such as workplace bullying, harassment or sexual harassment can be a very costly exercise and can end up in court.

It is important to decide the following;

  1. What is the complaint about
  2. What should I do
  3. How will I do it.
  4. Is it a disciplinary matter?

AWPTI can assist you and take the stress out of complaint handling in three ways

  1. We provide free of charge a Complaint Analysis Chart that will help you to work out what course of action is the most appropriate. If you would like a copy of the chart go to our home page, scroll down and fill in the request box. http://awpti.com.au/
  2. We can provide you with training in relation to complaint handling and investigations. http://awpti.com.au/investigation-training/
  3. We can provide you with full investigation services to take the stress out of dealing with complaints.http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

Contact us to find out how we can help you and your business

AWPTI – workplace investigations in Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations

www.awpti.com.au
http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

Complaint handling

Exit interview – complaints of bullying,
harassment and sexual harassment

 

An employee tells you during an exit interview that they were bullied, harassed or sexually harassed and that is the reason they are leaving the company, they name the alleged perpetrator but refuse to provide details as they are leaving and say that they want to put the bad experience behind them

What can or should you do?

This is a difficult situation to be faced as a HR professional or manager when conducting an exit interview

Your choice could be;

Do nothing, after all you have no details and no evidence. But remember, the easy way out could come back and bite you later.

Start an investigation, but where to start, if you speak to the alleged perpetrator how will you respond when they ask the usually, what exactly is it claimed that I did, when did this happen.

To conduct an effective investigation you will need to establish lines of enquiry;
• What happened – full details including what was said
• When and where
• Are there any witnesses
• Is there any other evidence

Without further details it is very difficult to conduct an effective investigation, remember you can’t set up a desk in the corner with a sign that reads ‘complain about Mr X here’

Keep records, you may be able to follow up on some information in an informal manner

If you don’t have one establish reporting mechanism for matters of misconduct, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment etc, this will encourage employees to have faith in the process that if they make a complaint it will be addressed.

Ensure that complaints are dealt with in a confidential, timely and professional manner, this will further encourage employees to have faith in the process
Conduct training with purpose;

  • Clearly outline employees behavioural expectations and responsibilities
  • Clearly define what is bullying, harassment, sexual harassment etc and how it will be dealt with by the company
  • Reinforce that the company has a reporting and investigation mechanism to deal with complaints in a confidential, timely and professional manner
  • Provide guidance for employees who feel that they are being bullied, harassed or sexually harassed

If you do not have effective training and investigation processes in place please contact AWPTI so that we can assist you.

AWPTI – workplace investigations in Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations

www.awpti.com.au
http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

enquiries@awpti.com.au

 

Sexual harassment – Busting the myths

Despite a number of matters in courts and tribunals sexual harassment in the workplace continues to be an issue.

As a workplace investigator and trainer I come across many opinion, beliefs and myths about what is and what is not sexual harassment and where is the line drawn?

Some of the most common myths around sexual harassment

Myth: I can’t report sexual harassment as no one will believe me

Fact: In many cases sexual harassers are serial offenders, known as the office sleaze, the person to keep away from. Many people especially young women are told early on “look out for him he’s a real sleaze” or similar.

Management and HR are in a much better position to take action if they have information to act upon.

The best way to help stop these people is take a stand, refuse to be the victim and report it HR or management. Not allowing yourself to be a victim is courageous and empowering.

 

Myth: As a HR professional or manager I can’t do anything about sexual harassment unless someone makes a complaint.

Fact: If you see it, hear about it, know about it or suspect that sexual harassment is occurring you should/must take some action.

You have a duty of care to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Don’t make excuses, they may come back to bite you.

 

Myth: It’s not sexual harassment if “I didn’t mean anything by it” or “I was only joking”

Fact: Most, if not all harasses are well aware of what they are doing, do not accept this excuse, especially if the harasser has been told that the behaviour or comment are not acceptable or has been told to stop.

 

Myth: If I ask a co-worker out on a date she/he can claim that it is sexual harassment

Fact: It is not sexual harassment to ask a co-worker out on a date; HOWEVER if you are asking a co-worker out on a date after being previously refused, ignored or not receiving a definitive answer YES – it can be sexual harassment.

 

Myth: If I have already dated a co-worker she/he cannot claim that it is sexual harassment if I keep asking them out.

Fact:  Once again it may not be sexual harassment if they consent but it is sexual harassment if they decline further dates, no matter how many you have been on.

Just because they went out with you once, twice or many times does not mean they do not have the right for future refusal.

 

Myth: It is not sexual harassment if they don’t really say ‘no’ when I keep asking them out or making those sort of suggestions.

Fact: Often the recipient of the request may feel awkward in saying no and may change the subject or avoid answering the question or say something like “I don’t know if I’m free, I’ll get back to you.”

If there is a power imbalance, for example manager and direct report, or manager and other staff member again the recipient of the request/s could be fearful that a direct refusal may harm their career or position in the company.

The golden rule is if they don’t say a clear unambiguous YES then it’s a NO.

 

Myth: It is not sexual harassment if I am only texting.

Fact: Sexually harassing someone via text, Facebook or any other social media or carriage is still sexual harassment.

 

Myth: It is not necessarily sexual harassment for a boss or manager to ask a co-worker out on a date.

Fact: It’s not, but using your power or seniority to coerce a co-worker into going out with you – bit of no brainer there YES of course it is (You would be amazed that the complaints of that nature I have investigated).

 

Myth: Making a comment about how someone looks is not sexual harassment

Fact:  Commenting   “You look nice today” in a neutral friendly manner, is not sexual harassment.

Commenting   “You look nice today” in a leering looking up and down suggestive or sleazy manner, YES that is sexual harassment.

 

Myth: I am a tactile person so touching is not sexual harassment

Fact: Seriously, (and yes I have heard that excuse) here is a simple rule, respect other people’s personal space, don’t do it, don’t touch unless clearly invited to do so.

 

Myth: Sending or giving a co-worker gifts or tokens of your affection is not sexual harassment

Fact: I have dealt with many complaints where this happens after an initial indication that the attention is unwelcome.

In this case YES this can be construed as sexual harassment.  Remember unless it is a definite YES then assume it’s a NO. In this case persistence is not a virtue

 

Myth: In the past we have had mutually acceptable sexual conversations and/or a consensual sexual relationship so wanting to continue is not sexual harassment

Fact: These are examples of behaviour that is not generally regarded sexual harassment due to the consensual nature.

 

HOWEVER should one party decide not to continue the relationship or conversational banter, when the other party is made aware of this should they desist immediately as continuing past this point may constitute sexual harassment.

 

Myth: I really don’t know what is classed as sexual harassment.

Fact: Here are some examples of sexual harassment that might be helpful to assist in understanding:

  • Staring, leering or unwelcome touching
  • Suggestive comments or jokes
  • Coercive behaviour that is intended to be sexual in nature
  • Sending sexually explicit emails or text messages
  • Repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates
  • Intrusive questions about a person’s private life
  • Requests for sex
  • Displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature
  • Inappropriate advances on social networking sites
  • Accessing sexually explicit internet sites
  • Behaviour that may also be considered to be an offence under criminal law, such as physical assault, indecent exposure, sexual assault, stalking or obscene communications

 

 Myth: As a business or employer sexual harassment is a matter between the two parties, it’s not a workplace issue.

Fact: Ponder these court cases that clearly illustrate the effects of sexual harassment in the workplace on businesses and employers:

Collins v Smith (Human Rights)[2015] VCAT awarded more than $330,000 as compensation to Ms Collins, an employee who had been repeatedly sexually harassed by her employer, Mr Smith, the owner and manager of the Geelong West Licensed Post Office.

Tan v Xenos (No 3) [2008] VCAT 584 – a sexual harassment case where Ms Tan was awarded general damages of $100,000

Poniatowska v Hickinbotham [2009] FCA 680, a sexual harassment case where the complainant was awarded $90,000 general damages in a total award of $466,000

Ewin v Vergara (No 3) [2013] FCA 1311 – a sexual harassment case where Ms Ewin was awarded $110,000 in general damages and $293,000 for loss of past earning capacity

GLS v PLP [2013] VCAT 221 – a sexual harassment case where a general damages award of $100,000 was made

Richardson v Oracle [2014] FCAFC 82 – a sexual harassment case where Ms Richardson was awarded general damages of $100,000 in a total award of $130,000.

The best way to avoid confusion and to make sure you have complied with your responsibilities is to train your staff. The money you spend on training may save you in the long run, should things ever go wrong.

If you receive a complaint and are unsure about the process it pays to call in an expert.

AWPTI – workplace investigations in Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations

www.awpti.com.au
http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

The author Phil O’Brien is a highly experienced and skilled workplace investigator and trainer who can take the stress out of conducting workplace investigations and provide you and your employees with up to date a relevant training in the areas of sexual harassment, misconduct, bullying & harassment and other issues facing employers and workplaces.

If you would like to know about tailored training session for your employees and managers including the popular 60 – 90 minute lunch and learn sessions please contact me.

 Addressing Workplace Bullying

Addressing Workplace bullying, harassment and sexual harassment are common problems faced by many employers and organisations. If not addressed the behaviour of a few can lead the detriment of others and to a large and potentially costly headache for the business.

In recent times there have been a number of very costly judgements being awarded against employers for breaching their duty of care to employees who were the victims of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Addressing workplace bullying, harassment and sexual harassment is not a simple fix, however there are things you can and should do.

Here is a four step method to;

  1. Take reasonable stops to respond to and reduce workplace bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace.
  2. Cover the business if complaints are made
  3. Promote an inclusive workplace culture
  4. Be seen as an employer of choice

Step 1

Have well written and up to date policies and procedures in place.

Be warned however, bullies and harassers ignore policies, but policies are the law in your company and a breach may be grounds for dismissal. If you don’t have the laws in place, bullies and harassers can behave with impunity.

If you don’t have up to date policies in place we can help – http://awpti.com.au/backup/hr-support/

Step 2

Have training in place designed to clearly outline your policies and the behavioural expectations the company has of its employees.

Again be warned, bullies and harassers ignore training, but if they breach a policy they cannot say “I wasn’t told.” If they are recorded and having undertaken the training, especially with face to face training, where they can’t use excuses like ‘the system was down’, or ‘I missed that bit’.

Good training must include the definitions of what is and what is not bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace and include the sanctions for breaching policy and being a bully or harasser.

If you don’t have effective workplace training in place we can help – http://awpti.com.au/backup/training/

Step 3

Have a robust and impartial investigation process in place. Make sure that if employees breach policy or act in a bullying, harassing and sexual harassing manner they will be dealt with.

Often engaging an external and professional investigator will send the message that you are not mucking around.

Step 4

Follow up on substantiated findings of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment with decisive action, it may be another case of sending a message that bullying, harassment and sexual harassment will not be tolerated and will be dealt with.

A note of caution;

You must ensure that all investigations are carried out in the professional manner affording the alleged perpetrator procedural fairness including;

  • The right to know the allegations made against them
  • The right to be hard and have their version of events taken into consideration
  • The right to a final determination based on the evidence
  • The right to an unbiased decision maker.
  • The right to a support person during interviews and meetings

Other considerations are;

  • The investigation methodology
  • The rules of evidence
  • Timing of the investigation (including how long it took)

Organisations should not fear taking decisive disciplinary action if they follow correct procedure.

When it comes to conducting a full, professional, timely and cost effective workplace investigation we can help

AWPTI – workplace investigations Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations

www.awpti.com.au
http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

For more information:

www.awpti.com.auenquiries@awpti.com.au  or 02 9674 4279

The author Phil O’Brien is a highly experienced and skilled workplace investigator and trainer who can take the stress out of conducting workplace investigations into bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and other forms of misconduct.

This is general information only. It does not replace advice from a qualified workplace investigator in your state or territory. It is recommended that should you encounter complaints in the workplace that you seek advice from suitability qualified and experienced workplace investigators.

Vicarious Liability – employers be aware of duty of care

Employers have a duty of care to ensure that they take all reasonable steps to ensure that there is nothing in the workplace that could cause an employee to suffer an injury or to contract an illness this includes taking reasonable steps to eliminate and/or respond to workplace bullying, harassment and sexual harassment failure to do that can result in an an action in negligence and a Vicarious Liability claim.

Organisations must be aware that they may found to be vicariously liable for the bullying behaviours of one employee toward another employee.

Business owners, employers and managers must ensure that they do all that they can to ensure that the duty of care is not breached as it can have serious consequences for employees and expensive consequences for employers.

The case of Eaton v TriCare (Country) Pty Ltd [2016] QCA 139 illustrates a breach of duty of care in a workplace bullying matter.

The Queensland Court of Appeal found that an aged care facility had breached its non-delegable duty by failing to take steps to minimise the risk of a former employee developing a psychiatric illness due to managerial pressure.

A former employee of the nursing home claimed that she developed depression and anxiety as a result of her excessive workload and the conduct of her manager. She claimed that, from 2009 when the particular manager joined the facility, she was subject to offensive, intimidating and humiliating behaviour causing her to become withdrawn, preoccupied, worried and noticeably depressed within the workplace.

The former employee claimed damages for loss of earnings as a result of her inability to work due to her psychiatric illness.

Being overworked, of itself, would not have been sufficient to establish breach. However, the manager’s constant belittling, yelling, aggression and general disregard for the former employee, coupled with the excessive workload, was sufficient to amount to breach.

There was evidence to suggest that the manager (and therefore the facility) should have foreseen the former employee’s particular vulnerability and her risk of developing a psychiatric disorder. Awarded over $430,000.00 in damages as a result of Vicarious Liability

Lessons for employers:

1.   Ensure that you have policies and training in regard to employee behavioural expectations, we can help – http://awpti.com.au/backup/training/

2.   Have a trusted misconduct reporting process in place.

3.   Ensure that your managers are aware of their duty of care to employees and understand the difference between management and bullying.

4.   Investigate complaints of this nature thoroughly and in a timely manner. http://awpti.com.au/backup/investigations/

5.   If in doubt call an expert

AWPTI – workplace investigations Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations

www.awpti.com.au
http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

Vicarious Liability - employers beware

The author Phil O’Brien is a highly experienced and skilled workplace investigator and trainer who can take the stress out of conducting workplace investigations and provide you and your employees with up to date a relevant training in the areas of misconduct, investigations, procedural fairness, reasonable management action, performance management, bullying & harassment and other issues facing employers and workplaces.

 Recently at the FWC – Anti Bullying matter

Anti Bullying order.

Purcell v Ms Mary Farah and Mercy Education Ltd t/a St Aloysius College

Read decision [2016] FWC 2308.

This application for an anti bullying order was made by a teacher who was also the OH&S representative at the school.

The applicant alleged that she had been bullied at work by the Principal of the College. The Principal was appointed in 2013 with a mandate from the Board of Mercy Education to effect change and arrest declining enrolment; however some staff were resistant to the change and preferred the status quo.

The applicant gave evidence that she became increasingly concerned about Mercy Education’s bullying policy and in May 2013 raised the issue of bullying and the need to update the policy.

The College’s Business Manager agreed to review the bullying policy by the end of the year however this did not eventuate; the applicant raised the issue again in April 2014. The Deputy Principal was listed in the bullying policy as the complaints officer however there was no Deputy Principal at the College, as the previous Deputy Principal had resigned in 2013 after the Principal had been appointed.

The bullying policy was finally revised and re-issued in 2015 after the applicant filed complaints in December 2014. The applicant identified a number of incidents occurring from late 2013, and continuing after her return from long service leave in mid-2015, which she maintained was repeated unreasonable behaviour by the Principal.

The Commission concluded that four of the incidents which the applicant complained about, taken together, amounted to repeated unreasonable behaviour. The Commission found that the conduct was likely to have caused the applicant distress and that the behaviour created a risk to the health and safety of the applicant. The Commission found that the applicant was bullied at work.

Lessons for employers:

  1. Ensure your policies are up to date and compliant, if you don’t have the time or expertise, get help – see www.awpti.com.au/hr-support/
  2. Investigate complaints about bullying in a timely and professional manner, if you are not sure what to do, call an expert – www.awpti.com.au/investigations/

The Commission considered what orders (if any) should be made, finding the relationship between the applicant and the Principal was an mutually tense the Commission held that interpersonal relationship disputes are best resolved through the efforts of the parties, and perhaps assisted by some form of .facilitation, dispute resolution intervention or mediation.

The Commission held that some form of reconciliation was much more likely to produce a lasting, positive improvement in the working relationship between the parties than any order could.

The Commission proposed that the parties engage with each other in a series of mediated or facilitated meetings with the aim of repairing their relationship, and engaging in a dialogue that would accommodate an ongoing professional working relationship, and a safe working environment. If the parties were unwilling to engage with each other, then the Commission advised that either party could request the expeditious hearing and determination of the question of whether orders should be made.

Lessons for employers and employees

  1. In some cases a dispute resolution invention might better option to deal with complaints than an investigation especially in matters of a she said, he said nature with little of no other evidence. Each matter must be assessed on it merits.
  2. Investigations tend to have winners and losers, a dispute resolution intervention has the potential to create a win win situation.
  3. A a dispute resolution intervention can also be a more cost and time effective solution.

If you have received a complaint and are not sure what to do, go to the Australian Workplace Training & Investigation home page www.awpti.com.au and request our Compliant Analysis Chart. The chart will assist you in deciding the best course of action to take when you have received a complaint.

AWPTI can also assist you with dispute resolution interventions – www.awpti.com.au/disputes/

AWPTI – workplace investigations Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations

www.awpti.com.au
http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

You can contact AWPTI – enquiries@awpti.com.au

This is general information only. It does not replace advice from a qualified workplace investigator in your state or territory. It is recommended that should you encounter complaints in the workplace that you seek advice from suitability qualified and experienced workplace investigators.

 


Dismissing employees – legitimate reasons but beware you must adhere to the process and afford procedural fairness.

Dismissing employees can be stressful, difficult and complex process. It is a decision that carries legal risks and can take a significant amount of time and resources.

When dismissing employees who earn less than the defined high income threshold currently $138,900 from 1 July 2016 (see http://www.afei.org.au/node/109027 or who are covered by an award or enterprise agreement, care needs to be taken to minimise the risk of an unfair dismissal claim in the Fair Work a state commission

 

To protect your business when dismissing employees in the case of misconduct you must;

  • Ensure that you have a valid reason to terminate an employee.
  • Act in a fair and reasonable manner during the process.
  • Ensure that you have provided the employee procedural fairness.
  • Consider the employees records and circumstances
  • Follow any applicable rules regarding dismissal, notice of termination, and final pay, including accrued outstanding leave.

 

With a legitimate reason, a proper procedure, and quality advice, you can feel secure in terminating an employee with minimised risk.

Below are four valid reasons for dismissing an employee.

1. MISCONDUCT

Misconduct can refer to a range of behaviour including breaching company policy and inappropriate behaviour that leads to Dismissing employees.

Serious misconduct includes theft, fraud, assault, other unlawful activity and any wilful or deliberate conduct that is fundamentally inconsistent with continuation of the employment, and conduct that causes and serious and imminent risk to health and safety or the reputation, viability or profitability of the employer’s business.

Your company policies, procedure or Code of Conduct should be clearly set out so you have grounds to take action. If you do not have these I strongly advise that you seek assistance and HR support, AWPTI can assist – http://awpti.com.au/backup/hr-support/

You must have evidence that misconduct occurred and that efforts were made to formally warn the employee about their misconduct. You don’t need to give any warnings in the case of serious misconduct before you can terminate, but you do need evidence and procedural fairness.

It is recommended that if termination is a likely outcome a thorough investigation is carried out to ensure you have the evidence and that procedural fairness (meaning giving the employee the opportunity to respond to allegations about their conduct) is afforded. AWPTI can assist with investigation services http://awpti.com.au/backup/investigations/

In cases of serious misconduct, employers do not have to provide any notice of termination. However, as this is a drastic measure, you need to be sure you have a sound basis and valid reason, having afforded procedural fairness. If you are unsure the employee may be suspended while and investigation takes place

2. INCAPACITY

Capacity relates to an employee’s ability to carry out the requirements of the job. In order to use incapacity as a legitimate reason to terminate an employee, you need to identify the core duties of the job position and assess the employee’s ability to perform them. In doing so, you must ensure that you are not unlawfully discriminating against the employee by reason of illness or some other incapacity.

Once again, you need evidence that a lack of capacity exists and that reasonable measures were taken to find a solution or provide alternative duties. This is especially important in the case of disability or medical incapacity.

It is very important that you have clearly written position description that clarify that nature of the position and the responsibilities of the employee. If you do not have clear and current position description AWPTI can assist – http://awpti.com.au/backup/hr-support/

3.POOR PERFORMANCE

Managing poor performance can be a risky process. A structured and well-prepared performance management plan or improvement procedure can protect you from ending up on the receiving end of a bullying or unfair dismissal claim.

Identify the performance problem and formally discuss it with the employee. You need to give concrete examples of poor performance rather than general comments about their productivity. Give them the opportunity to respond, advise them on how they can improve their performance and give them time to do so. Most importantly, you need to document the process.

Ensure that you can demonstrate a well-established performance management process in case a claim is made against you. Check contracts, industrial agreements, policies and procedures to ensure you are complying with any relevant rules or procedures. Verify your facts, ensure you have evidence and again, above all, document everything. http://awpti.com.au/backup/hr-support/

4. GENUINE REDUNDANCY

Redundancy is a valid reason for termination. You need to show that the employee’s position is no longer required to be performed by anyone because of changes in the operational requirements of your business.

Protect your business from an unfair dismissal claim by making sure you follow any consultation requirements outlined in an applicable award or registered agreement.

You should also have explored all reasonable opportunity to redeploy the employee in another position. It is best practice to consult employees about redundancy and redeployment regardless of the right to be consulted under an award or enterprise agreement. Affording empathy to employees who are adversely affected by redundancies goes a long way in minimising the risk of claims.

AWPTI With all areas of workplace investigations, training and HR support that are essential when dismissing employees.

AWPTI – workplace investigations Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations

www.awpti.com.au
http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

www.awpti.com.au

The author Phil O’Brien is a highly experienced and skilled workplace investigator and trainer who can take the stress out of conducting workplace investigations into bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and other forms of misconduct.

You can contact me on 0409 078 322 or phil@awpti.com.au

This is general information only. It does not replace advice from a qualified workplace investigator in your state or territory.  It is recommended that should you encounter complaints in the workplace that you seek advice from suitability qualified and experienced workplace investigators.

Recently at the Fair Work Commission employers have been penalised as a result of unfair Workplace Investigations.

Ensuring that Workplace Investigations are conducted in a timely matter is an important consideration at the FWC

In Australian Rail, Tram and Bus Industry Union v NSW Trains [2016] the Fair Work Commission found that there were unreasonable delays in the investigations of a safe working incident involving two train drivers.

The incident occurred in June 2014 and the outcome of one of the investigations was determined in May 2015. The Commission found that this period of 11 months was “excessive and unreasonable”.

The Commission found that the circumstances of the case did not justify this amount of time and delay – the drivers had admitted to breaching the employer’s policy from the outset and the Commission found there was little to consider other than responses from the two drivers regarding mitigation. Another investigation took around six weeks despite there being “nothing complex to determine”.

The employer argued that the reason the investigations took so long was because it was complying with its policies and procedures and because of the Christmas period. However, the Commission was critical of these processes, noting that “justice delayed is justice denied”.

The Commission did not accept that the Christmas period as a reason for delay, noting “Trains does not stop its operations over Christmas and nor should investigations affecting the livelihood and wellbeing of employees”.

Lesson for employers: Investigations should be conducted in a timely manner, failure to do so could be considered to be unfair, being investigated is stressful whether or not you are guilty of the alleged behaviour, put yourself in the shoes of the respondent.

In Cherunkunnel v Alfred Health [2015] an employee lodged a grievance under the enterprise agreement concerning his employer’s decision to issue him with a final warning and to demote him following a complaint made against him by a fellow nurse. The employee was stood down while the matter was investigated.

The Commission considered whether the investigative procedure adopted by the employer complied with the relevant enterprise agreement. The applicant argued that his employer did not comply with the enterprise agreement because he was not interviewed.

The enterprise agreement contained a number of procedural requirements, including that an employer must take all reasonable steps to give the employee an opportunity to answer the allegations, and to conduct a fair investigation.

The Commission found that providing the employee with a reasonable opportunity to answer any allegations and concerns could “realistically only take place during an interview” which ought to have formed part of the investigation.

The Commission found that if the employee is not interviewed as part of the investigation, then it would not have been conducted in a fair manner as the investigator would be making recommendations based on one side of the story.

Further, the employee was required to respond to a recommendation that he show cause as to why his employment should not be terminated without having been heard in relation to his version of the events prior to the investigator forming a view or making a recommendation.

The Commission found this approach to be procedurally unfair but concluded that the employer, in not terminating the employee’s employment but deciding to issue him with a final warning, took an appropriate approach in dealing with the issues relating to his nursing practice.

Lessons for employers: Procedural fairness especially the right to be heard should be considered as being “set in stone” it doesn’t have to be in the EBA to be a principle to be adhered to.

 

It is often wise to call in an expert to assist with Workplace Investigations, AWPTI can take the stress out of Workplace Investigations –  http://awpti.com.au/backup/investigations/

The author Phil O’Brien is a highly experienced and skilled provider of Workplace Investigator and training who can take the stress out of conducting Workplace Investigations into bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and other forms of misconduct.

AWPTI – workplace investigations Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations

www.awpti.com.au
http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

You can contact me on 0409 078 322 or phil@awpti.com.au

www.awpti.com.au
http://awpti.com.au/backup/investigations/

This is general information only. It does not replace advice from a qualified workplace investigator in your state or territory. It is recommended that should you encounter complaints in the workplace that you seek advice from suitability qualified and experienced workplace investigators.

HR Support – Does your business have up to date and compliant workplace polices in place?

HR Support – In the recent case of Shane Clayton v Coles Group Supply Chain Pty Ltd [2016] Fair Work Commission found that an employee who consumed cannabis before attending work was not unfairly dismissed for breach of the employer’s ‘zero tolerance’ drug and alcohol policy.

The applicant, Mr Clayton was employed by Coles at a distribution centre his job required him to operate manual handling equipment. Coles classed the distribution centre, as a high risk environment, had a ‘zero tolerance’ drug and alcohol policy.

in January 2016, Mr Clayton was involved in a forklift incident, it was accepted that the incident was not his fault; however Mr Clayton underwent an oral fluid drug test that returned a positive result for cannabis. Further testing confirmed the on-site test result.

On 1 February 2016, Coles conducted a disciplinary meeting and provided Mr Clayton with the opportunity to show cause as to why his employment should not be terminated. After considering Mr Clayton’s response, Coles terminated his employment summarily without notice or payment in lieu.

Mr Clayton argued that the dismissal was unfair because;

  1. He was advised during the induction training that he needed to ensure that he did not smoke marijuana within 3 to 6 hours of the commencement of his shift and he had complied with this.
  2. He reasonably believed that he complied with Coles’ drug and alcohol policy by leaving a considerably longer gap between his consumption of cannabis and his attendance at work.
  3. His consumption of cannabis was linked to workplace stress and was part of his strategy to manage that alleged stress.

 

The Commission found that Mr Clayton’s dismissal did not constitute unfair dismissal because:

  1. There were valid grounds for Mr Clayton’s dismissal. The Commission concluded that it was reasonable for Coles to have a zero tolerance drug and alcohol policy that should be consistently applied because of:
  2. The nature of the workplace: a busy environment with various vehicles and machinery being operated;
  3. the work health and safety risks associated with employees working under the influence of drugs in this type of environment; and
  4. the lack of an objective test for determining Mr Clayton’s impairment.
  5. Mr Clayton was notified of the reason for his dismissal.
  6. Mr Clayton was afforded a proper opportunity to respond to the allegations. It noted that the meeting on 1 February 2016 was adjourned to allow Mr Clayton time to consider the allegations and provide a response.
  7. Mr Clayton was accompanied by a support person in discussions concerning the matters leading to his dismissal.

The Commission held that while the use of cannabis for pain relief may be considered a mitigating factor, that factor needed to be weighed up in circumstances where Coles had a confidential scheme and policy that encouraged self-reporting problems without sanctions. The Commission also found that the employee used cannabis for recreational purposes.

While the Commission also acknowledged that there were potential dangers for an employer in providing information about detection periods as this may detract from the zero tolerance message, any information provided to Mr Clayton by Coles did not provide a mitigating factor because:

  1. The window of detection was given as an indicative guide only and could not reasonably be expected to represent a guaranteed safe or reliable withholding period given the context in which it was provided.
  2. The responsibility upon an employee not to attend work with any detectable drugs in their system was clear and understood.
  3. Mr Clayton was advised that if in doubt, he should not attend for work.

The Commission found that Mr Clayton had consumed cannabis on the morning before his shift, and could not be confident that his system would be clear of the drug when he attended work. He was therefore, at best, recklessly indifferent to his potential to breach the zero tolerance policy, and any confidence to the contrary could not be soundly based.

While the Commission held that the lack of notice or payment in lieu of notice would usually be a factor strongly supporting a finding that the dismissal was unfair, this was not decisive here. This was because Mr Clayton had misled Coles about the timing of his consumption of cannabis and could not have legitimately relied upon the indicative window of detection.

Lessons to be learned for employers

  • This case highlights the importance of having a comprehensive drug and alcohol policy that is consistently applied.
  • It is advisable to provide employees with training that clearly outlines their responsibilities in relation to workplace expectations and behaviours
  • Get good HR Support

If you organisation does not have up to date and complaint workplace polices in place and training for your employees, please contact AWPTI and allow us to assist you with HR Support – http://awpti.com.au/hr-support/

AWPTI – workplace investigations Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Workplace investigations misconduct, bullying, harassment & sexual harassment investigations

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The author Phil O’Brien is a highly experienced and skilled workplace investigator and trainer who can take the stress out of conducting workplace investigations into bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and other forms of misconduct.

You can contact me on 0409 078 322 or phil@awpti.com.au for HR Support

This is general information only. It does not replace advice from a qualified workplace investigator in your state or territory. It is recommended that should you encounter complaints in the workplace that you seek advice from suitability qualified and experienced workplace investigators.