Workplace bullying and harassment

While on the sporting field bullying tactics might be all part of the game, when it comes to our workplaces it shouldn’t be the case.

Last year we undertook a major workplace investigation in a very large well-known company where there had been a history of workplace complaints.

The claimant was an employee who was alleging that he had been the subject of ongoing intimidation, harassment, bullying and physical assault, within the workplace.

The allegation was that several staff were involved in ongoing and coordinated, name calling, and bullying over a two-year period. It was also alleged that on at least two occasions the claimant was hit in the face by another employee in an area of the premises that was not subject to surveillance cameras.

The complaint had commenced as a workplace issue but escalated into a very large claim for damages for psychological injury against the employer — the claimant was 28 years old and claiming that his injury was so severe that he was unable to return to work in any atmosphere that requires a team environment.

As an organization we are experiencing an increase in these types of cases, despite the general stance within the community and business against this type of conduct. Claims of this nature can quickly escalate and become major stress claims, seeking large financial compensation. We are witnessing more and more businesses which have not addressed the issue with clear policy and other strategy and leaving themselves exposed to claims.

The company in this example engaged us after ongoing complaints from employees surrounding workplace harassment, to attend to the problem.

Many companies have dedicated Human Resource departments, as did this company on this occasion, but in some cases the matters are so sensitive that employees feel better with external parties.

During the investigation we identified there was a clear culture of either being “in the team” or “out of the team” in this case.

The claimant had reported the issues on a number of occasions but there was no evidence of any real action being taken to resolve the issues.

We also found there was a lack of due diligence at recruitment — some employees had a history of workplace harassment of others and the business policy relating to workplace harassment and bullying was clearly insufficient and not comprehensive. For example, there was no definition of what constituted unprofessional conduct and the business did not articulate its policy or stance on this type of conduct.
Employee training and induction regarding the business policy on the issue was not conducted, there was no formal grievance or complaint process and the investigations were not transparent and there was no provision to deal with or separate persons who could not work together.

In short, a disciplinary process existed in document form but was rarely supported.

After a full risk assessment we were about to implement a number of treatments and training, that supported the current legislation surrounding workplace HR and WPH&S.

In doing this, our client utilized our whistleblower service as a way to report grievances.

As a result of this service, we have witnessed a large decline in the number of complaints at the company. Where complaints are occasionally made, they are now acted on accordingly and resolved without claim.

By doing this the company paved an important facet of their business that went a long way in protecting, not only their business financially, but also protecting the rights of their employees.


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