If you have been the victim of bullying, the HR department in your organisation is generally the first port of call for raising your concerns.
It can be mentally or emotionally challenging to make a complaint to HR. You may feel exposed or vulnerable because you are concerned that your complaint may not be believed, or that the person about whom you have made a complaint has been told that you have “dobbed” on them.
Depending on the nature of your complaint, or the relationship of the HR personnel with the person or people about whom the complaint has been made, you may have concerns that a workplace investigation will not be conducted thoroughly or your grievance not taken seriously. In any event, your working life can become very uncertain after you have made a complaint to HR.
Taking a company issue to the HR team can also be a lengthy process, and it may feel like nothing is happening as time ticks by. But it’s important to remember that much of the HR investigation will be taking place without you being directly aware of it.
Here is a brief look at how the process works.
THE FIRST STEP
After you have aired your grievance, it’s important to try and remain focused and perform your job to the best of your ability. If you feel you are unable to do so, it may be best to take a few days off work on sick leave until you feel stronger, and better able to approach your tasks or face your co-workers.
THE COMPLAINT PROCESS
There are certain steps which a diligent HR team must follow once a complaint has been brought to their attention. Initially, the complaint must be assessed.
Next, the HR department will meet with relevant senior staff, who must make a decision as to what the appropriate follow-up actions will be.
Depending on the severity of the alleged behaviour, this may involve HR having a quiet word to the other person or the initiation of formal disciplinary proceedings. The latter is more likely to be the case if the person being complained about is already being performance-managed in relation to prior issues.
Be aware that it may well take HR a week or even longer to finalise the preliminary investigation process, and make and communicate a decision on the best way forward.
Privacy obligations to the other employees involved may also mean that you are not entitled to know the full details of what further action will be taken.
WHAT CAN HR TELL YOU?
At a minimum, HR is required to advise you of:
- The fact that it has received your complaint, is taking it seriously and is conducting appropriate levels of investigation.
- What Employee Assistance Programs are available.
- Who the liaison person for these programs is (if your organisation has one) and how to contact them.
WHAT IF THERE IS A FORMAL WORKPLACE INVESTIGATION?
For serious complaints, your company may engage the services of a third party workplace investigator.
If this occurs, then you are entitled to:
- Be one of the first people interviewed if a detailed investigation is commenced.
- Receive a copy of your interview transcript or detailed statement, which you should sign if you agree that it is an accurate record of what you told HR
If your complaint is sufficiently serious, then the respondent facing your allegations will be advised of the exact complaints against them. Although they are also likely to be interviewed, you are not entitled to a copy of their transcript or statement. If you are concerned about any bias, however, be aware that their interview will be recorded.
Once these steps have been finalised, the investigator will draft a report for the review and consideration of the HR department. That report (hopefully completed within a timeframe of less than three weeks) will then be provided to the relevant decision-makers within your organisation for a final determination.
You will generally be advised that the investigation has been completed, what the findings are, and of any further action steps as they concern you. But in most cases, you will not be specifically advised of any punishment to be meted out to the respondent.
BE PREPARED FOR WORKPLACE CHANGES
If your complaint is serious, you may be asked to move or transfer offices or departments. This is not a punishment, but is designed to ensure that your wellbeing is protected, generally by reducing the likelihood of any contact occurring between you and the respondent.
Try not to respond by being offended or otherwise feeling indignant. All businesses, regardless of their size, have legal obligations to all employees. Your employer cannot simply fire workers who have issues with other employees, and other considerations may mean that the respondent cannot be moved. Bear in mind that your organisation is simply trying to find the best outcome for all concerned.
If you are nervous about making a complaint or otherwise wish to obtain guidance on how whistleblowers should be dealt with, contact WISE Workplace today for detailed assistance with all aspects of the workplace investigation process.