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Workplace Investigations – Mental health: The invisible challenge for business

Workplace Investigations Mental health – An important part of workplace investigations or performance management discussions is to allow the subject to respond to the issues and to listen, you never know what is going on in their life.

The pressures of daily life, financial stress, job insecurity and personal challenges create situations that flow into the workplace and can affect workplace investigations.

The costs of mental ill-health
In Australia, the cost of mental ill-health is said to be approximately $60 billion per annum. That’s roughly $4,000 per taxpayer. Putting aside the human cost, mental ill-health clearly has an economic impact on the growth of the Australian economy. This means it affects businesses, both directly and indirectly.
Managing what you can’t see
Mental health can be difficult for employers to understand. You can’t see the physical injury, so how do you know it exists? And while factors from outside the workplace play a significant role in creating mental health issues, the contributing factor of stress within the workplace can’t be ignored.

The impact of failing to manage mental ill-health in the workplace can include:

  • the loss of good employees
  • workers compensation claims
  • increased sick leave
  • high turnover of staff, and
  • bullying and harassment claims.

Trying to work out what causes mental ill-health in employees is difficult. It is an ‘invisible’ challenge for employers and one that requires a proactive approach for success.

Approaching with suspicion and looking to disprove an individual’s mental ill-health can have negative results for all involved.

Whether the individual is suffering mental ill-health from conditions like bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia, depression, anxiety or stress, they are all manageable conditions that employees (and other members of the Australian public) live with every day.

If a claim arises, having the right support and policies in place is a better strategy than trying to prove the case against the employee.

Implementing a mental health plan in your workplace
With regulatory intervention likely in the near future, 2018 is the year that all businesses need to implement a mental health program in the workplace.

Our top five tips for developing a mental health plan are:

  1. Let go of unhelpful incidents of suspicion against employees claiming mental ill-health. In the absence of reasonable evidence to the contrary, give employees the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Provide managers and supervisors with training about mental ill-health.
  3. Treat employees with mental ill-health as you would any injured employee, by allowing them to take time off to recover from an injury and to seek a safe return to work.
  4. Ensure that employees feel supported and that their mental ill-health circumstances will be kept confidential (where possible).
  5. Provide access to external support (like Employee Assistance Programs and other counselling).
Benefits of a workplace mental health plan
If businesses can implement an effective mental health plan in the workplace in 2018, they will enjoy a range of tangible benefits over the medium term, including:
  • cultural improvements
  • increased productivity
  • fewer workers compensation claims
  • reduced sick leave, and
  • minimised legal liability.

Not only will you contribute to strengthening the Australian economy, you will be on the front foot when regulations start to roll in.

Originally published at hramag.com
https://www.hcamag.com/hr-news/mental-health-the-invisible-challenge-for-business-247849.aspx

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Unfair dismissal

In unfair dismissal matters, the FWC finds that you can’t have two bites of the cherry – Belford v Swan Transit Services Pty Ltd – Read decision [2016] FWC 5201.

The applicant in this unfair dismissal matter was employed as an apprentice mechanic. He was dismissed on 4 December 2015 for breaching the respondent’s Drug and Alcohol Policy. On 17 December 2015 the respondent made an application to the Western Australia Department of Training and Workforce Development (the Department) to terminate the apprentice’s training contract.

The Department terminated the training contract effective 22 February 2016. The applicant lodged an appeal against the Department’s decision with the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission (the WAIRC).

 

Subsequently the applicant filed an unfair dismissal application with the Fair Work Commission on 17 March 2016, outside of the 21 day time limit. The Commission determined that were three issues which required consideration:

  • Whether the unfair dismissal application was barred by the operation of the Multiple Actions provisions of Part 6-1 of the Fair Work Act
  • The determination of the date of dismissal, and
  • The determination of the application for extension of time to lodge the unfair dismissal application.

The respondent contended that the applicant’s appeal to the WAIRC was an application or complaint ‘under other laws’ as set out in s.732 of the Fair Work Act.

The Commission considered whether the appeal was an application made ‘in relation to the dismissal’ [Birch]. The Commission held that it was clear that the applicant was seeking the same effective remedy in the matters before the WAIRC and the Commission, and was relying upon the same argument, and the same facts, in relation to the alleged serious misconduct.

The Commission found that the appeal before the WAIRC was in relation to the dismissal, and given the operation of the Multiple Actions provisions the unfair dismissal application could not be made. The unfair dismissal application was dismissed.

The Commission also found that the applicant was dismissed on 4 December 2015 and was not satisfied that there were exceptional circumstances which would warrant granting an extension of time. The Commission determined that if the unfair dismissal application had not been barred by s.725 the Commission would have dismissed the application as being out of time.

 

Lesson for employers – If you aware of a jurisdictional objection to an application for an unfair dismissal remedy state it early on.

Be careful to property record the date of termination as it may be something you rely upon at a later date.

AWPTI can assist employers with issues surrounding terminations and unfair dismissal – www.awpti.com.au/unfair-dismissal/

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.

 Recently at the FWC – Anti Bullying matter

Anti Bullying order.

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

Read decision [2016] FWC 2308.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons for employers:

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

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

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

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

Lessons for employers and employees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Below are four valid reasons for dismissing an employee.

1. MISCONDUCT

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. INCAPACITY

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

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

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

3.POOR PERFORMANCE

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

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

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

4. GENUINE REDUNDANCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.awpti.com.au

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

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

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

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.