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Anti Bullying Application rejected – Reasonable Management Action.

A case of Reasonable Management Action. On 19 August 2016, the Fair Work Commission handed down a decision dismissing an order to stop bullying. This was only the seventh of its type relating the FWC’s bullying jurisdiction.

In Xiaoli Cao v Metro Assist Inc; Rita Wilkinson, the Applicant,  employed y a charity, sought orders from the FWC against her manager to stop bullying under s 789FC of the Fair Work Act 2009.

The alleged bullying conduct included overloading her, increasing her workload, requesting she perform “unreasonable” tasks, making accusations about her work ethic and demeaning her in front of her work colleagues and other allegations.

Notwithstanding steps taken following two mediation sessions, the Applicant filed a general protections claim on 12 January 2016 and made a bullying complaint to SafeWork NSW.

In exercising its jurisdiction, the FWC considered the Applicant’s evidence that her manager’s actions were not reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.

The employer gave evidence that the actions taken did not constitute bullying and that, where possible, it had actioned the Applicant’s requests to address her concerns and also established measures to rebuild the work relationship between the two parties.

The Commission found that the evidence did not support allegations of unreasonable behaviour by the manager and that the employer had executed reasonable management action and also carried out fair and transparent investigations into her allegations.

This decision demonstrates how reasonable management action done in a reasonable manner will not be considered as workplace bullying.

If you are your managers are unsure about what is and what is not reasonable management action and workplace bullying, I strongly recommend you consider the AWPTI Management Essentials training program, details can be found at http://awpti.com.au/management-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 full text of the decision can be found here- https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/decisionssigned/html/2016fwc5592.htm

Reasonable Management Action

 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.


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.

Employee Investigation

What if the employee does not want an investigation into their complaint?

Employee investigation – This is a common question that I am asked and one that many HR professional are face with when an employee does not want an investigation into a complaint that they have made to you.

Remember people change their minds, people listen to other people and have their minds changed

In some circumstances, an employee may raise a workplace issue with their employer or make an “informal” complaint but does not wish for any formal action to be taken, as was the case in Swan v Monash Law Book Co-operative (Swan v Monash).

Remember that it is the responsibility (duty of care) of the employer to protect its employees against unlawful behaviour and conduct in the workplace.

As a result, sometimes irrespective of an employee’s views on how their workplace issue should be managed, once an employer or HR professional becomes aware of an issue, it is imperative that the employer considers the potential risks arising from the complaint, and makes an assessment about the extent to which the issue should be investigated and the process for doing so.

Time for a shift in thinking

Think about it this way, once an employee has made a complaint the ownership of that complaint now rests with the HR professional or manager who received the complaint. What happens with or to the complaint will rest with you as will the consequences of not doing anything.

The case of Swan v Legibook – Supreme Court of Victoria – 26 June 2013 illustrates what can happen and can result in a breach of duty of care due to a failure to investigate a bullying complaint.

The applicant made complaints of workplace bullying in 2003 (the informal complaint) and formal complaints in 2005, she left Legibook in 2007 had not worked since.

The employer in Swan v Monash failed to promptly act on the employee’s workplace bullying complaint because when the issue was first raised by the employee, the employee did not wish for any formal action to be taken.

This delay (and of course the underlying conduct complained of) ultimately resulted in the employer being ordered to pay damages to the employee for the severe psychological injuries that she suffered

The applicant claimed anxiety, depression, and other physical conditions, she was awarded $600,000.00

Lessons for employers;

  1. In matters of bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination you have to make a decision to investigate, consider the risks to the business, YOU own the complaint now.
    (If you are not sure contact me for a copy of the AWPTI Risk Assessment Chart and Complaint Analysis Chart.)
  2. If things hit the fan, the buck stops with YOU.
  3. Just like pass the parcel, when you are holding the complaint and the music stops if you haven’t done anything about it you may be out.
  4. Just because an employee says I don’t want anything done it doesn’t mean that they won’t change their mind.
  5. Ensure that your managers are aware of their duty of care to employees and understand the need to investigate complaint matters.
  6. Investigate complaints of this nature thoroughly and in a timely manner.
  7. If in doubt call an expert

Don’t be caught out, for assistance with complaint investigation contact us www.awpti.com.au/investigation  or training www.awpti.com.au/training

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/

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.

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.

 

 

 

Question – summary dismissal do you have the grounds

Summary dismissal is dismissal without notice. It does not require advance notice to the employee and wages are only paid to the time of dismissal. An employer has a legal right to summarily dismiss an employee without notice for serious misconduct or other conduct which justifies such dismissal.

Employers should always think very carefully and thoroughly consider the options before making a decision to immediately or “summarily” dismiss an employee. For summary dismissal to be lawful there must have been a breach by the employee of either an express or implied term of the contract of employment that is serious enough to necessitate an employer to undertake an action of summary dismissal.

 

I recommend before summary dismissal action is taken employers do the following:

  • Investigate the matter carefully to ensure that you have enough information and evidence upon which to make your decision. If the presence of the subject employee in the workplace causes concern consider suspending them until the conclusion of the investigation.
  • Review the employee’s record. Does this person have a long history with the company? Is this person a first or repeat offender? These are matters that could be taken into account.

Summary dismissal of a long standing employee with a good or unblemished record can be problematic.
Your options should be carefully considered

  • Review your options. Would dismissal with notice be a better option? What are other options – demotion, counselling or training?
  • Don’t allow the fact that you may save some money by summarily dismissing an employee to affect your judgement. This course of action could be more costly in the long run.
  • Resist the temptation to ‘make an example’ of instances of employee negligence with summary dismissal. It is always best to ensure that disciplinary action is fair and thorough and that the outcome is proportionate to the conduct that has occurred.

 

Here are some cases that highlight differing views of summary dismissal:

In Bruce v AWB Ltd [2000] FCA, the Federal Court of Australia stated that mere misconduct is not considered as sufficient grounds to warrant immediate dismissal. For a summary dismissal to be lawful the employee’s conduct must be judged serious enough that summary dismissal is the only option.

In Concut Pty Ltd v Worrell [2000] HCA 64, Kirby J stated that it is “only in exceptional circumstances” that an employer is entitled to dismiss an employee summarily. His Honour went on to state that generally, acts of dishonesty of similar conduct that destroys the mutual trust between the employer and employee fall within the class of conduct which would allow a lawful summary dismissal.

In Smith v Aussie Waste Management Pty Ltd [2015] FWC 1044 (Smith), the FWC ruled that swearing at a managing director during a heated phone call was not sufficient cause for summary dismissal. The FWC ruled that the conduct was not ‘sufficiently insubordinate’ for him to be dismissed because the conversation was not overheard by other employees, meaning it had not undermined the managing director’s authority in the workplace.

 

On the other hand:

In John Pinawin t/a RoseVi Hair Face.Body v Edwin Domingo [2012] FWAFB 1359 the Full Bench accepted that the summary dismissal of a hairdresser whose work performance was adversely affected by his drug use was fair, but warned the same conclusion would not necessarily be reached in all cases of out-of-hours misconduct – an issue on which the Full Bench made some interesting observations that pertain to all employers.

In Lloyd & Co Pty Ltd v Shuttle ([2016] FWCFB 144) the employee had sent a series of emails to other staff members that were highly critical and disparaging of the managing director.

The Commission ruled that the managing director’s feelings of betrayal as a result of the employee’s personal hostility and disloyalty were reasonably held. The managing director had direct evidence of disloyalty in the form of the emails

As you can see summary dismissal is not cut and dry, I recommend careful and expert investigation of misconduct incidents that could result in summary dismissal.

The peace of mind of getting it right outweighs the cost of an expert investigation.

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 suitably qualified and experienced workplace investigator

 

Beware of vicarious liability

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. Failing to do so could mean that employers may be vicarious liability  for the bullying behaviours of an employee toward another employee.

vicarious liability as a result of a breach of  the duty of care 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 Qld 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

 

Lessons for employers:

  1. Ensure that your managers are aware of their duty of care to employees and understand the difference between management and bullying.
  2. Don’t ignore complaints or reasonably foreseeable situations
  3. Investigate complaints of this nature thoroughly and in a timely manner.
  4. If in doubt call an expert

 

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.

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.

 

 

Some good reasons to ensure you investigate thoroughly

An examples of where a lack of investigation case was costly, this is why you should investigate thoroughly

When a complaint is made employers should investigate thoroughly in a professional and timely manner to ensure that they satisfy their duty of care especially when considering the termination of an employee.

The case of Harley v Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Ltd [2010] FWA 62 illustrates an example of an unfair dismissal and the consequences of a lack of a proper investigation

The applicant Mr Harley was employed as a Business Development Executive at Aristocrat Technologies Pty Ltd (Aristocrat).

He had resigned after receiving a show cause letter from Aristocrat who claimed that he was under performing on sales targets and that there had been complaints about him from customers.

The applicant brought an unfair dismissal claim, claiming that he had been forced to resign as a result of a course of bullying and harassment engaged in by Aristocrat’s State Manager.

Commissioner Deegan agreed that the applicant had been constructively dismissed and that the dismissal was unfair.

He found that he had performed as well, or better, than most of the other business development executives during a difficult financial period and that he had been treated badly by the State Manager.

Significantly, he was highly critical of Aristocrat for failing to respond to the applicant’s harassment claims made against the State manager prior to his dismissal. He found that the human resources manager was “either uninterested in investigating the complaints properly or had no idea how to conduct such an investigation”.

 

The applicant was awarded 6 months’ salary in lieu of reinstatement.

This case is a strong reminder to HR professionals and managers to deal with employee complaints seriously and to conduct thorough investigations into complaints.

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.

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.