New federal legislation passed this month means employers will need to pick up their game when managing complaints of workplace bullying.
Prevention is the best place to start. However, putting in place suitably qualified staff capable of conducting robust investigations and managing difficult cases is an essential strategy for any employer.
Previously, the investigation of workplace bullying involved managing the challenges of workers taking ‘sick leave’ and lodging a compensation claim for the stress caused by bullying at work.
Employers may also have had to navigate issues when HR became the subject of complaint when they assisted managers with performance management.
From 2014, however, HR policies and procedures will come under scrutiny directly by the Fair Work Commission, and staff will potentially have to handle prevention orders from the FWC.
This kind of oversight is not new to all business, but many will find this unfamiliar territory stressful. It will provide complainants with an extra level of control.
For the past 12 years, WISE Workplace has helped companies and government agencies manage investigations into bullying. Here are our top five tips for the successful management of these often difficult cases:
- Ensure procedural fairness is afforded to both complainant and respondent. This means allowing both parties to have their say. More than just a procedural step, the key to procedural fairness is to ensure that this is done with an open mind and that key decisions are not made until ALL parties have been spoken to and supporting evidence gathered.
- Do not make assumptions based on your prior knowledge of parties involved. There are just as many frivolous, ill-conceived complaints as there are substantive ones – and some of the biggest bullies sit high up in an organisation.
- Do not allow staff to make ‘confidential’ complaints that may be about bullying. You have a legal responsibility to ensure that bullying behaviour does not go unchecked. If you receive complaints or whinges of behaviour that you consider could be bullying you will need to start an investigation regardless of the wishes of the complainant.
- Resist the temptation to perceive complainants as ‘difficult’ or disingenuous because they use or threaten external avenues for complaints. Lodging a workers compensation claim if you are harmed, lodging a complaint with the Fair Work Commission, a human rights commission, ombudsman or solicitor are all legitimate avenues for a victim of bullying. In extreme cases, victims may also legitimately report actions to the police. These things make the cases complex not implausible.
- Make sure you understand the concept of the ‘reasonable person test’ when it comes to assessing management action and behaviour that may have a risk to health and safety.
Safe Work Australia has released the Draft Code of Practice – Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying for public consultation. Responses are invited until 15 July, 2013.
WISE Workplace offers training to HR professionals and managers on how to respond to workplace bullying, conducting investigations and making findings of fact. For more information you can call us on 1300 580 685.