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

Vicarious liability under Australian law

The doctrine of vicarious liability effectively serves to render employers liable for the wrongful acts of their employees in so far as those acts are committed in the course or scope of their employment. Generally, if it can be said that the employment relationship created both the “opportunity” and the “occasion” for a wrongful act to take place, the employer will be held liable. This was recently discussed in the High Court in the matter of  Prince Alfred College Incorporated v ADC [2016] HCA 37 a matter involving sexual assault

Previous cases have also been decided by reference to the sufficiency of connection between the wrongdoing and the responsibilities of the employee and by the identification of material circumstances or “features” common to certain kinds of cases.

The courts’ focus has generally been to look at the extent to which the employment relationship enabled or facilitated the commission of the wrongdoing.

The “relevant approach”

Drawing from previous judgements, the High Court prescribed the adoption of what it described as “the relevant approach”. According to the relevant approach, the court must consider any special role that the employer has assigned to the employee and the position in which the employee is thereby placed in relation to the victim.

The HCA then went on to state that in determining whether the apparent performance of such a role may be said to give the occasion for the wrongful act, particular features may be taken into account. Clearly contemplating crimes of a sexual nature, it asserted that such features include authority, power, trust, control and the ability to achieve intimacy with the victim.

Applying the relevant approach to the case before it, the HCA stated the appropriate enquiry was whether the employees role as housemaster placed him in a position of power and intimacy in relation to the victim, such that his apparent performance of his role as housemaster gave the occasion for the wrongful acts, and that because he misused or took advantage of his position, the wrongful acts could be regarded as having been committed in the course or scope of his employment.

Significance of the case

This case offers a crucial lesson to employers who might not otherwise realise that they may be held liable for the unlawful acts of their employees, even where they themselves are not at fault.

The HCA has affirmed that each case must be determined on its individual facts and merits. The consequence is that considerable uncertainty and expensive litigation is certain to ensue in cases of this kind.

Employers should ensure that the parameters of their employees’ roles are well defined to minimise the risk of liability arising for acts said to occur in the course of an employee’s duties.

The types of scenarios where employers may be particularly vulnerable to a claim of vicarious liability include schools (and especially boarding houses), hospitals, care facilities, disability clinics and many more (keeping in mind the fact that such claims are not limited to circumstances involving sexual assault or even criminal activity in general).

In order to try and minimise their risk, employers should check:

  1. that their policies and employment agreements, including codes of conduct, specifically prohibit sexual harassment; and
  2. that appropriate training is conducted
  3. Have a trust reported mechanism in place and investigate matter thoroughly when reported.
  4. Have a proactive investigation mechanism in place when matters or suspicions come to light.

AWPTI can provide you with training and investigation services to help protect you 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/
http://awpti.com.au/training/

Details of the case – http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/sa/SASCFC/2015/161.html

Evidence
Workplace Investigations – what is evidence?

Evidence is the crucial element when it comes to proving on the balance of probabilities whether or not a person who is the subject of a complaint behaved in the manner complained about.

Failure to understand the value of evidence can seriously undermine an investigation and can have costly consequences to employers if a person is unfair dismissed or unfair treated in the workplace.  

Evidence – is information that is relevant to proving or disproving a disputed fact in issue in investigations and legal proceedings.

Evidence comes in many forms including;

·         Letters of complaints

·         Informant information

·         Proceeds of a search

·         Observations

·         Interviews

·         Statements

·         Documents

·         Photographs

·         Emails

·         Forensic evidence

·         Computer records

·         Other physical items.

There is no set rule to determine what type of evidence is the best evidence. In any investigation the best evidence is the evidence that assists in proving an element in question and maximising the successful outcome for the investigation.

Evidence differs from information as it can be said that information is only information if it is not used for anything, once it is used to support or inform a theory or in the case of an investigation a complaint, the information then becomes an item of evidence.

Information becomes evidence when it is used to make a decision or conclusion.

Therefore it can be argued that all evidence is information, but not all information is evidence. Having a comprehensive understanding of evidence and the rules of evidence is critical for  workplace investigators.

In upcoming articles I will discuss the rules of evidence and the handling and storage of evidence.

If you intend to conduct internal investigations I highly recommend that you consider purchasing our Investigation Toolbox http://awpti.com.au/investigation-toolbox/

or the Investigation Interview Manual.  http://awpti.com.au/investigation-interview-manual/

If you require assistance with the investigations of workplace misconduct issues such as bullying, harassment, sexual harassment of any other issues please contact us at enquiries@awpti.com.au http://awpti.com.au/

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/

Evidence

 

 

Responding to sexual harassment complaints – Part 1

Responding to sexual harassment complaints can be a daunting task for managers and HR managers, if you get it wrong there can be very costly consequences.

In the case of Mathews v Winslow Constructors (Vic) Pty Ltd [2015] VSC illustrates a breach of duty of care in a sexual harassment matter in which the Supreme Court of Victoria has awarded an employee over $1.3 million in damages after finding that her employer was negligent in failing to provide a safe working environment and allowing her to be subjected to extensive abuse, sexual harassment and bullying by her colleagues.

In part 1 I will discuss outsourcing complaint investigations, in part 2 I will discuss conducting investigations internally (more details)

When you are faced with a complaint of sexual harassment the first decision you should make is should this be investigated, bit of a no brainer here, YES of course it should.

The second decision is, do we handle the matter internally or bring in an external expert.

Here is what the Fair Work Commission said about outsourcing workplace investigations, http://awpti.com.au/outsourcing-investigations/

When making the decision I recommend that you ask the following questions,

  1. Who will conduct the investigation?
  2. Do we have someone, or do I have the necessary expertise and/or experience to conduct the investigation.
  3. Is the nominated person or am I comfortable conducting the investigation.
  4. Does the nominated person, or do I have the time to conduct the investigation. This question is often overlooked, however investigations take time, time away from all your other work.

If the answer is NO to any of the questions it is recommended that you considering outsourcing the investigation.

A catch phrase that comes to mind is used by a Sydney conveyancer in radio ads,

“When all you do is conveyancing,
you get very good at it”

That statement very much applies to workplace investigations.

So you have decided to outsource the investigation, what now?

Unless you have a previous relationship with a workplace investigator it is likely that you will turn to Google where you will find a number of listings, so who to choose and why?

A Lawyer might be a good choice, after all they understand the law as it relates to workplace issues, but do they have the experience in conducting investigations, conducting investigative interviews and drafting investigation reports.

In face many law firms actually outsource investigations to professional investigators, I have worked for a number of law firms, this allows the lawyers to be able to provide advice based on the investigation report without bias or any suggestion of a conflict of interest. See http://awpti.com.au/law-firms/

A workplace investigation firm is also a good choice, however you must ensure that whoever is nominated to conduct the investigation has relevant expertise in the particular type of complaint you are dealing with.

Many  workplace investigation firms employ investigators with a policing background who have experience in interviewing, evidence gathering and brief (in this case an investigation report) preparation but remember policing may be different skill set to workplace investigation.

As an employer or HR professional you are able to ‘shop around’ for the investigator you want and who you feel comfortable with and also a price you are happy to pay.

While outsourcing may take away the stress of the day to day handling of the matter, you should still maintain a level of control, this is achieved by setting out a clear ‘terms of reference’ at the start and discussing and approving the investigation plan, see http://awpti.com.au/investigations/engage-awpti/

During the course of the investigation it is also important to establish points of contact, milestones and communicate with the investigator on an on-going basis through-out the investigation to ensure that the investigation is carried out in a timely manner.

Finally the investigator should be available to disuses their final report and debrief the parties  should you wish them to do so.

In part 2 I will discuss how to conduct the investigation internally.

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/

AWPTI can assist you with by conducting misconduct investigations, the Principal Phil O’Brien is a highly experienced and skilled workplace investigator, Lawyer and former member of the NSW Police who can guide you through the minefield of sexual harassment 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 investigator.

responding sexual harassment complaints

 

 

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.

Workplace Bullying case

A Gippsland man has been jailed for six months over what has been described as an extended and systematic campaign of workplace bullying that made his victims’ lives “a living hell”.

Mr Sean Clare, from Moe, pleaded guilty to the charge of stalking in relation to the bullying of two colleagues at the Woolworths store in Moe between August 2010 and August 2013.

The 46-year-old verbally abused his then-night shift manager Ms Erica Jegers and another employee, Mr Steven Ricketts.

The Latrobe Magistrates’ Court heard Clare often undermined Ms Jegers, refusing to perform simple tasks and spread rumours she was having an affair.

He was openly hostile and aggressive towards Ms Jegers, making derogatory comments about her while she was in earshot.

On the night of May 1, 2013, Mr Clare called Ms Jegers while she was at work, telling her “if you were a bloke you would have had your head smashed in by now because nobody likes you”.

Mr Clare was sentenced to serve an immediate term of six months’ imprisonment, with a minimum of two months.

In addition a 36-year-old man was also prosecuted under Brodie’s Law and fined $1,000 without conviction.

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 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.