How you choose to manage a bullying complaint will have a significant effect upon the outcome. It can certainly be difficult to sort through and resolve the issues. Our 5 steps to effective management of bullying complaints will help you to navigate the path.
- Gather the Basics. Before creating a plan of action, gather the core information. Ascertain from HR who the key parties are as reported. These might include the complainant, the subject of the complaint, and alleged victim (if the complainant is in fact a witness). Note the basic elements of the allegation, but be careful not to get too involved in the details at this point. Part of taking reasonable management action means holding off from listening to just one person, or making any early judgments.
- Make An Investigation Plan. Armed with basic information about the bullying complaint, you can now move forward to the development of an investigation plan. Because you know the central people involved, an outline of the complaint, and the nature and size of your organisation, you are well equipped to make an effective plan. Decide if you have the necessary investigative skills within the workplace, or if a professional workplace investigator is necessary. Whether internal or external, your investigator will benefit from a well-structured plan – and in fact might help you to create one. Plans can include a timeframe, witness names and positions, essential and inessential questions, and / or preferred interview methods. A good plan can greatly enhance the quality of the investigation.
- Close Off Gossip. Hopefully, the bullying issue remains contained. Yet for better or worse, knowledge of workplace complaints can often spread quickly. Perhaps the hardest step in reality, a professional effort is needed to minimise misinformation on the work floor. This does not mean placing a ‘zero tolerance’ on workplace discussion around the complaint – this is generally impractical. What may be required where gossip is flowing fast is a short statement from the employer. This could simply indicate that an investigation is underway, and that respect and discretion are required across the workplace.
- Investigate Impartially. Whether internal or external, any investigative process must follow the principles of procedural fairness. For example, before or during the investigation you may feel strongly inclined to believe one party or another. It is so important to resist jumping to any conclusions, particularly until the process is fully complete. If any party believes that bias has been demonstrated, then a finding of a breach of procedural fairness is a distinct possibility. Keep questions calm, on point and directed towards relevant facts only.
- Monitor Staff Wellness. Before, during and after your management of a bullying complaint there are essential issues our health and safety that must be kept in mind. Stress might be quite high among all involved, and you may need to give consideration to granting leave for certain staff. Some physical movement within the work space might also be recommended to reduce the potential for ongoing difficulties.
Employing reasonable management action while handling a bullying complaint will undoubtedly ensure the fairest outcome for all. Having our 5 steps at hand will help you to create a way forward that promotes both even-handedness and a quality resolution.
Want more information on how to respond to workplace bullying? Want to know the key definitions and legal principles? Get advice based on extensive investigations experience? Understand the key steps in conducting an effective investigation, including a template report of findings based on an actual case? Download our e-book on How to Respond to Workplace Bullying now!