Lorna Jane case.

The Lorna Jane case where an employee is suing her employer over bullying claims is currently before a court in Brisbane.

The company’s head of people and culture, Emily Bourke, addressed the media at lunchtime today saying:

As an employer of more than 2,000 people we take the claims being taken against the company very seriously,” 

“We have conducted a through internal investigation and vehemently deny Ms Robinson’s claims.”

“We have workplace policies and procedures in place that very clearly state the company’s position on workplace bullying and harassment and it was not tolerated in any circumstances.”

“This is the first time in the company’s 27-year history that we have been involved in proceedings of this nature.”

It is worth noting that there is a common perception (true or not) that internal investigations may be biased, subject to conflict of interest and favour the employer.

Whether or not it is your first complaint, to ensure a through independent investigation that is not biased investigation or subject to claims of a conflict of interest, it is recommended that the investigations into complaints of bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination are outsourced to a professional and experienced investigator – we can help http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

The cost of an external investigation will likely be far less than the cost of defending the matter in court.

For more details of the article relating to this case – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-15/former-lorna-jane-employee-amy-robinson-break-down-in-court/8271576

More details about this case –http://www.9news.com.au/national/2017/02/14/14/04/qld-lorna-jane-bullying-trial-begins?

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/

 

Minimum employment period

In the unfair dismissal matter of Cole v Endless Solar Operations P/L the respondent, a small business employer, raised a jurisdictional objection regarding whether the applicant had completed the minimum employment period.

The applicant’s employment was terminated effective from 27 May 2016. The applicant had commenced performing IT work for the respondent as an independent contractor on 30 March 2015. The applicant submitted that he became a casual employee shortly thereafter; the respondent submitted that the applicant remained engaged as an independent contractor. The applicant was employed in the position of IT and Operations Manager effective from 13 July 2015, pursuant to the letter of offer of employment.

The Commission considered whether the work between March and July 2015 was performed by the applicant as a casual employee or as a contractor, and if it could be counted towards the minimum employment period. The Commission found evidence of an employment relationship, concluding that during the period between March and July 2015 the applicant was a casual employee, and that the work between March and July counted as service.

The Commission was satisfied that the applicant had completed the minimum employment period and was a person protected from unfair dismissal. The respondent’s jurisdictional objection was dismissed

Read decision [2016] FWC 6663 http://www.fwc.gov.au/decisionssigned/html/2016fwc6663.htm

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/

minimum employment period

 

 

Unfair dismissal recently at FWC

Unfair dismissal hearing on 20 January 2016 in Sydney, the FWC found that a HR manager’s decision to dismiss an employee who couldn’t perform the inherent requirements of her role was reasonable, despite some “regrettable” lapses in process, the Fair Work Commission has ruled.

In Sao Duarte v The Paraplegic & Quadriplegic Association of NSW (full text here) involved an employee who in March 2016 emailed the CEO and advised that interpersonal issues at work were adversely affecting her performance and health. The CEO advised that he would monitor the situation.

A month later the HR manager asked the employee to attend a fact-finding meeting about allegations she had altered a client’s weekly medication pack without authorisation. The employee took leave the next day, claiming that that she was suffering from a workplace injury that had been exacerbated by bullying, she did not return to the workplace.

The employer subsequently deemed that Ms Duarte was incapable of performing the inherent requirements of her job due to a major depressive disorder, she was dismissed on the HR manager’s advice after she failed to respond to a show-cause request.

Ms Duarte claimed in her application to the FWC that her dismissal was unfair because she had been subjected to bullying over a  period of time, and was provided with no assistance after complaining about the bullying. She further stated that the fact-finding meeting made her feel targeted, as if she were being “groomed for dismissal”.

She didn’t deny being unable to perform the inherent requirements of her job at the time, but said she might have returned to full duties in the short-to-medium term.

The HR manager gave evidence to the FWC that the dismissal decision was based solely on medical evidence about Ms Duarte’s inability to do her job, even with modifications, and insisted her performance and conduct were irrelevant.

The HR manager said that after seeing references to alleged bullying in the employee’s medical report, she conducted a “fulsome” review (at 47) of her employment records and found no formal complaint. She claimed she only became aware of the employee’s email to the CEO after the dismissal.

Commissioner Booth found it was reasonable for ParaQuad to dismiss the employee after finding she couldn’t carry out the inherent requirements of her role, those requirements required her to be alert, handle emergencies and deal with clients with significant disabilities.

The Commissioner found that it was “regrettable” that the HR manager, having become aware of the allegations, didn’t “extend a conciliatory hand” by, for example, offering to have a conversation with the employee.

“[The manager] effectively asserted that there was no bullying or harassment problem because [the employee] had not followed the correct grievance process,” the Commissioner said.

She described the HR manager’s approach as “form over substance” and said that while it’s preferable for an employee to follow workplace protocol when making allegations, bullying could clearly occur without complaint.

“The art of good human resource practice includes responding to signals as well as addressing issues raised through formal channels.”

The CEO’s failure to take appropriate action, which would “certainly” have involved referring the email to HR, was also regrettable, Commissioner Booth said.

“The CEO said he’d monitor the situation, but gave no evidence of further action. “In my view this was an inadequate response to the concerns raised,” she said.

In dismissing the application, she noted the worker was pursuing a review of her workers’ compensation application, which could prove a more appropriate forum for her grievances.

Lessons for employers

When determining if someone can perform the inherent requirements of their role, employers are advised look to independent medical examinations.

If a complaint of bullying is made it should not be ignored even if it does not fit within the usual process or procedure.

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/

Please contact us if you require assistant with the investigation of misconduct complaints to training to help you business avoid such issues. www.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 investigator

Unfair dismissal

 

Unfair dismissal recently at the FWC

On 10 January 2017 an unfair dismissal hearing at the FWC in Melbourne upheld the summary dismissal of a worker who tested positive for cannabis after a car accident, despite the arguments that the employee was denied procedural fairness.

In Albert v Alice Springs Town Council, Commissioner Wilson found that the employee was fairly dismissed after having failed the drug test despite the employer not providing Mr Albert with the opportunity to respond to the drug test results.

The Commissioner’s held that the employee’s misconduct outweighed any procedural faults in his dismissal , in addition that it wasn’t obvious that failing to provide the worker with procedural fairness would lead to a finding he was unfairly dismissed.

Facts

In July 2016, Mr Albert was involved in a motor vehicle accident while driving a council truck, he was required to undergo a urine test which identified THC in his system that was 73 times higher than the Council’s ‘cut off’ level of 15 micrograms per litre.

The extremely high reading led the Council to summarily dismiss Mr Albert cited that his behaviour was serious misconduct in that it represented a danger to himself, other workers and the public.

Mr Albert filed an application for unfair dismissal arguing the Council had not provided him with the relevant paperwork when he took the urine test, and refused to give him copies of his results.

Although Commissioner Wilson found the Council had not provided the worker with procedural fairness, he held the dismissal was justified as the Council had a valid reason to dismiss the worker because his job involved safety-critical work.

Despite these defects in the Council’s internal disciplinary process, Commissioner Wilson held the dismissal was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable because the outcome of the disciplinary process would have been the same even if there had been no such defect.

As such Commissioner Wilson found that the seriousness of the worker’s actions outweighed the procedural faults of the Council in its decision to dismiss the worker. Further, had the procedural faults been remedied, and the Council formally put the test result to the worker, it would have been unlikely to affect or alter the ultimate outcome of the matter.

Lesson for employers

In most cases in relation to unfair dismissal, failure to afford procedural fairness before dismissing an employee will, result in a finding that the dismissal was unfair, resulting in either the reinstatement of the employee (when considered appropriate) or payment of compensation.

In very clear cases of serious misconduct, a lack of procedural fairness might save you from liability on an unfair dismissal claim, it is recommend that you still ensure that you provide procedural fairness and save yourself the argument later.

Have a well drafted drug and alcohol policy which clearly states what is acceptable behaviour and the consequences of any unacceptable behaviour will assist employers with disciplinary outcomes should an employee record a positive test result

Full decision – https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2017fwc73.htm.

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/

Australian Workplace Training & Investigation can assist you 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. http://awpti.com.au/about-awpti/

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.

Unfair dismissal

Evidence 2

Evidence rules

Evidence rules – When conducting a workplace investigation there are rules relating to evidence that you need to be aware of and adhere to.

The laws of evidence prescribe standards to which a fact must be proved, in workplace investigations that are generally classed  as civil proceedings in nature whether or not they end up in a court or tribunal, facts must be proved on the balance of probabilities. If the matter is of a criminal nature the facts must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The civil burden of proof is considered to be a lower standard

Rule of evidence

Relevance:
Evidence obtained during an investigation or interview should be relevant to the matters under investigation.

Hearsay:

The hearsay rule is complex, however basically hearsay evidence is third party evidence for example John tells you that Julie told him that she was being bullied by Mike.

The evidence provided by John is hearsay. You need to interview Julie to obtain the information.

Hearsay evidence is unlikely to be admitted if the matter goes to court.

Best evidence:
It is better to rely on original documents, direct evidence from the parties and witnesses.


Corroboration:
It is wise to seek multiple sources of evidence.

Similar fact:
Be wary, just because you have evidence that a respondent behaved in a certain manner in the past does not mean they behaved in the same manner during the events that lead to the current investigation

Chain of evidence
You may have to show that the evidence you are relying upon is the actual evidence that you discovered during the course of the investigation for example documents or physical objects.  I will cover the chain of evidence in part 3.

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 2

Part 1 on this subject (more details) dealt with outsourcing investigations, in responding sexual harassment complaints 2 I will outline a procedure that can be followed if as manager or HR professional you choose to conduct the investigation internally.

Investigations are conducted internally for a number of reasons including, cost, availability and internal processes and procedures.

This article provides an overview of how to conduct an internal investigation. Please note it is an overview only, conducting an investigation is a complex and often time consuming matter requiring a high level of expertise.

There are many procedural steps during an investigation that are not included here for the purpose of brevity.

Should you wish a complete guide for conducting workplace investigations I have created a comprehensive investigation toolbox contains 35 documents (including template letters, interview plans, sample reports) and an Investigation Interview Manual. http://awpti.com.au/investigation-toolbox/

Complaints of sexual harassment

Generally complaints will be made either in person verbally or in writing, most commonly via email.

Step 1.

If the complaint is made in person, the first step is to obtain as much detail as possible from the complainant at the time of reporting.

If the complaint is made in writing or email, I recommend that you review the complaint and any other documentation, print it off and Identify and highlight areas where further information is required.

Identify areas where clarification of information is required, questions such as the who, what, what did they do, when, where, what was said, was anyone else present, if so who?

Step 2

Once you have reviewed the complaint it will be necessary to formally interview the complainant. 

This will require you to draft an interview plan that should include questions designed to have the complainant clarify when they meant when they used descriptive words such as sexually harassed, bullying, harassing, intimidated etc

You should also draft questions to have the complainant clarify words they may have used such as touched, looked, leered, yelled, shouted, angry etc and questions to ascertain the nature of the relationship of the parties prior to and during the incidents complained about

Complainants often use emotive language you must be sure what they actually mean.

You do not need to write out every question you are going to ask, the interview should be organic and led by the answers you receive to the key points you have identified.

Step 3

Interview the complainant. 

Investigative interviewing is a skill in itself and is far too detailed to go into here.  I have produced an interview manual that has been designed as a practical guide for workplace investigation interviewing. http://awpti.com.au/investigation-interview-manual/

The manual will assist you in preparing, conducting and reviewing the interview upon completion.

During the complainant interview you should be seeking as much further information as possible and the answers to the questions you have previously identified, clarifying as much information as possible

Step 4

Review all of the information (evidence) from the complainant.

Draw up a list of witnesses and potential witnesses. Witness will tend to support or refute the information provided by the complainant.

Draft the interview as you did for the complainant

Step 5

Interview the witnesses.

You should seek to obtain information that either corroborates or refute the complainant information.

Witnesses may also provide further information that leads to new avenues of enquiry.

Step 6

Review all the information you have. Identify any gaps in the information and what if any further information is required.

If warranted, draft a letter of allegation to be provided to the person subject of the complaint, the respondent.

The letter of allegation provided to the respondent must contain sufficient detail of the complaint to allow them to respond. This is a component of procedural fairness.

Step 7

Interview the respondent, allow them the opportunity to respond to the allegations and provide their side of the event/s. This is also a component of procedural fairness.

During the interview the respondent may nominate additional witnesses, these witnesses should be interviewed in the same manner as witnesses nominated by the complainant.

Step 8

Review and analyse all the evidence and make a finding as to whether the allegations have been substantiated or not or are unable to be substantiated.

Step 9

Report your findings in a clear manner.

Step 10

Advise the parties of the outcome of the investigation.

As I mentioned at the start, conducting an investigation is a complex and often time consuming matter. The AWPTI Investigation toolbox is a highly recommended resource for you to have if you intend to conduct investigations internally. http://awpti.com.au/investigation-toolbox/

If is important to remember, if you are unsure consider calling in an expert. http://awpti.com.au/investigations/

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/

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Anti bullying policy training

An anti bullying policy should be considered to “best practice” in any organisation.  The policy should outline,

  • What is unacceptable behaviour
  • What behaviours may constitute bullying.
  • What is not bullying
  • What are the responsibilities of employees at all levels in relation to acceptable behaviour and bullying?
  • The process of reported and investigating complaints of bullying
  • Possible resolutions to bullying complaints

It is becoming increasingly common for employees to assert they are being bullied when reasonable management action has taken place, such as feedback and performance counselling.

In relation to workplace behaviour, it is widely accepted that employees should treat one another with courtesy and respect. However, in many cases this is not a message that is reinforced. The workplace anti-bullying policy, along with other relevant policies, provided the opportunity to highlight the concept of respect.

Modern Australian workplaces are made up of diverse groups of people, this means that employees may have different views about what is acceptable behaviour and how to conduct themselves at work.

It is important that employers create a clear and consistent message regarding behavioural expectations by;

Clearly defining:

  • Workplace bullying
  • Unacceptable conduct
  • Procedures for reporting bullying or unacceptable conduct
  • The investigation process
  • Outcomes of substantiated complaints of bullying in the workplace
  • Confidentially and victimisation

http://awpti.com.au/hr-support/

Training

As important as having a policy, training should be conducted to reinforce the policy and allow employees to ask questions and understand that workplace bullying poses a serious threat to health and safety and that organisations have a duty of care to take all reasonable steps to prevent and/or respond to bullying.

If your organisation need help draft an anti-bullying policy or creating a facilitating training AWPTI can assist. http://awpti.com.au/training/

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 misconduct, investigations, procedural fairness, reasonable management action, performance management, bullying & harassment and other issues facing employers and workplaces.

Contact me at phil@awpti.com.au or 0409 078 322 or via http://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 a suitability qualified and experienced workplace investigator.

anti bullying

 

 

Punishment must fit the crime

It is important for employers to remember when managing misconduct issues to ensure that the punishment fits the crime.

For example in the case of In Beamish v Calvary Health Care Tasmania Limited T/A Calvary Health Care Tasmania [2016] a matter involving the alleged misuse of internal communication a terminated employee was reinstated after it was found by the FWC that a reference to the Director of the Catholic Mission as “Mission Impossible” in internal emails was a misguided attempt at humour and not sufficiently serious to warrant termination.

The Fair Work Commission ordered the reinstatement after finding that “the punishment did not fit the crime”.

It is often the case that employers are unsure as to what course of action to take when dealing with misconduct, I advise the following;

  • Investigate the matter thoroughly ensuring that you gather and consider all the available evidence.
  • Ensure that you always afford the person subject of the complaint procedural fairness, the right to know what they are being accused of and the right that their response is heard and considered.
  • Take into account
    • o The nature and overall effect of the misconduct to the parties and to the organisation
    • o The employees history, length of time with the organisation and previous if any misconduct issues
  • Review options other than termination

Still not sure, contact AWPTI, we can take the stress out of dealing with misconduct issues for 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/

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 02 9674 4279 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.