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The Latest from the Blog

When Should You Report Workplace Bullying?

Harriet Stacey - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When Should You Report Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying can be toxic to organisations and can have a long-term physical and emotional impact on victims. If someone you know is being bullied at work, it’s important to know when to report it.

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated and unreasonable behaviour which is directed towards an individual or a group of workers, and creates a risk to their health and safety.

Every situation is different when it comes to workplace bullying, and it can be difficult to know how serious it is. If there is an immediate risk of physical harm to an employee, then workplace bullying should definitely be reported. In less serious cases, whether or not to report the bullying to a manager or supervisor can depend on how comfortable the victim is talking to their supervisor, and whether they are concerned about repercussions.

When determining whether or not to report bullying to a supervisor, it’s important to decide if the behaviour is classed as bullying, or if it falls under another category like reasonable management direction or discrimination.

Here are some examples of workplace bullying that should be reported:

                • Repeated hurtful remarks about a person’s standard of work or them as a person, including comments about their ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic background or other factors.
                • Repeatedly excluding someone or stopping them taking part in activities related to work..
                • Giving someone pointless tasks which have nothing to do with their job.
                • Deliberately changing someone’s work hours or schedule to make it more difficult for them to do their work.
                • Deliberately overloading someone with work they can’t possibly get done in the required timeframe or with the available resources.
                • Physical bullying including pushing, kicking, grabbing or any other physical contact which is unwanted and repeated.
                • Threats of physical harm against a person.

Some activities which aren’t categorised as bullying include:

      • Reasonable management direction. .
      • Disciplinary action which is reasonable and in keeping with organisational policies and procedures.
      • Other forms of harassment including sexual harassment and discrimination. These should still be reported, but will be dealt with differently from workplace bullying.

If you are concerned about bullying in your workplace, it may be worth having a confidential discussion with a supervisor, or a health and safety officer, to determine whether further action should be taken.

Whatever the circumstances, it’s important that workplace bullying or intimidation doesn’t continue, as this can have serious repercussions for the wellbeing of the victims and other employees who may be exposed to the behaviour. It can result in an unhappy and unproductive workplace for all employees, not just the direct victims of bullying.

Defence Department Criticised for Dismissal Process

Harriet Stacey - Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Defence Department Criticised for Dismissal Process

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has criticised the Department of Defence for its dismissal of an employee for excessive personal internet browsing, and the use of an anonymous search engine. The dismissal took place after a workplace investigation which the commission deemed to be unfair and unreasonable.

During the investigation of the employee, the Department failed to speak to the employee’s manager or work colleagues about his internet usage, and whether or not it was having an impact on his work. Senior Deputy President of the FWC Jonathan Hamberger made the point that it was fairly evident that co-workers and the employee’s direct manager would have a strong idea of whether he was spending the majority of his time browsing the internet for non work-related reasons

The original allegations against the employee stated that he had visited non work-related websites up to 1,822 times per day but this figure was later amended after it was found to be incorrect. The issue was never raised with the employee’s manager, but instead a bureaucratic process was put into action which was described by the deputy president as “bizarre” and as taking on a life of its own.

Reasons for the findings

Some of the reasons for finding the dismissal to be unfair and harsh included the severity of the penalty compared to the severity of the alleged behaviour. There was no clear evidence that the internet usage was affecting the employee’s work and even if it had been excessive, informal counselling would have been a more appropriate penalty than dismissal, the commission found.

In the employee’s defence he was described as an honest witness with a genuine interest in IT security issues, which explained his motivation in deleting cookies and using anonymous search engines. According to the employee, his reason for using anonymous search engines and deleting cookies was to protect the Department’s IT network rather than as a way of hiding his usage and internet activities.

He admitted to sometimes using the internet for personal reasons but no evidence could be found that his internet usage was adversely affecting his work.

Defence policies criticised

The investigation, as well as not taking into consideration the statements of the employee’s colleagues and manager, was found to have been excessively drawn out and there were no clear policies to provide a valid reason for the employee’s dismissal.

The Defence Department was advised by the commission that if it wanted the use of anonymous search engines to be punishable by dismissal then that needed to be stated clearly in its policies. The current policies were found to be vague and contradictory on the subject of anonymous internet usage.

No remedy has so far been determined, with the parties due to meet at a future date to discuss the options for providing reparations to the employee.

How to Work Effectively With External Investigators

Harriet Stacey - Tuesday, July 08, 2014

How to Work Effectively With External Investigators

If you are dealing with an employee dispute, suspected misconduct or allegations of harassment and bullying in many cases it may be necessary to hire an external investigator. Utilising the services of an unbiased third party means that you can be sure your investigation will be free from personal conflict and the person in charge of the investigation will be truly impartial.

Employee or management conflicts can be devastating to any organisation and they can end up costing a lot of money in absenteeism and lost productivity as well as creating a stressful environment for co-workers. Many employee disputes and allegations of misconduct come with legal implications so it’s important that any investigations are conducted ethically and lawfully by a skilled professional. If not handled properly, any resolution could be overturned or lead to a lengthy and costly legal battle.

It is in everybody’s best interests to get the best possible outcome when working with an external investigator and there are a few things you can do to help ensure a quick and accurate resolution of the situation. Here are some tips for working effectively with external investigators, for management and employees.

Before the investigation starts

It’s important that everyone is clear about the scope of the investigation, the terms and whether or not there are any conflicts of interest or other issues which could affect the investigator’s ability to carry out their job in an unbiased manner. Make sure it is clear what assistance and support will be required from the agency or organisation including access to administrative records, availability of employees for interview and any other requirements.

Knowing what to expect on both sides will help alleviate stress and misunderstanding and make the process go a lot more smoothly. Although not everything can be predicted, the investigator will probably have some idea how they plan to go about the investigation and it is important that this is communicated to the organisation so that management and the employees involved understand what is likely to happen.

Once the investigation is underway

Good communication is essential at all stages of an investigation and a set of deliverables should be agreed on by both sides so that expectations are clear. It’s a good idea for the investigator and a representative of the agency they are investigating to touch base regularly to ensure any issues are dealt with and the investigation is proceeding as required.

Make sure that the investigator you use provides a full written report of their findings including all the evidence, how it was obtained and the reasoning process involved in reaching their final conclusion. This is an essential part of the process and can protect you in the future if there is a dispute over the final outcome by giving you a written record of exactly what was decided and what evidence was used.

Generally an investigator doesn’t make the final decision but they may make recommendations. Make sure that the person who is in charge of making a final decision, particularly if it involves termination of employment, is aware of the legal and procedural implications involved so as to reduce the chance of further legal action or a decision being overturned.

The more you co-operate and support an external investigator the more likely it is that you will have a quick resolution and be able to put the matter behind you and move on. At Wise Workplace we have experience working with a number of different agencies and investigating a wide range of complaints. Talk to us to find out how we can help you.

Harriet Stacey 28 Jan 2014

Following the recent anti-bullying amendment to the Fair Work Act, WISE CEO Harriet Stacey talks about the importance for employers to be proactive and effective in how they deal with workplace bullying.