Surviving Hell - Men and Workplace Bullying

- Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Workplace Bullying and Men’s Sense of Self
Surviving Hell - Men and Workplace Bullying

As a society, Australia is becoming better at dealing with workplace bullying. That is, better at understanding, noticing, preventing, stopping and compensating for injury. Yet we also have so much to learn about the more nuanced after-effects of this scourge within Australian workplaces. One problematic and often ignored aspect of the broader effects of bullying is the devastating impact upon the identity and wellbeing of men. Gender stereotypes around ‘toughness’ and ‘coping’ have a lot to answer for, as we begin to unpack the pressures on men to withstand even the most dire of workplace bullying situations. We look at the specific impacts that workplace bullying can have upon men’s sense of self – as well as the workplace more broadly.

A study in ill treatment
In a recent article by MacIntosh et al, a close analysis was made of men’s responses to bullying. The researchers found that men who were the subjects of bullying in the workplace utilised similar mechanisms afterwards to try to hold on to their sense of self. The participants reported feelings of shock, confusion and a negative shift in identity after being bullied. Many had considerable difficulty in reconciling the way they saw themselves as men, with the way they had been treated. A lengthy process of ‘sustaining self’ was often needed, employing processes such as comparing their earlier identity with their ‘bullied’ self, taking stock, considering help, and coming to terms with the new reality.
Costs and consequences
Most employers understand the basic responses that are needed when a male staff member reports bullying. Yet there is more that can be done by human resource personnel and employers generally when such a report comes through. Certainly, an investigation of allegations will commence, plus leave might be granted for the staff member/s where appropriate. But with only 25% of men who have been bullied staying at the same workplace, more intensive and personalised assistance should be embedded in the employment culture. Without such investment of time, energy and other resources, workplaces stand to lose good workers, considerable corporate knowledge and trust from remaining employees regarding genuine support from ‘the top.’ Worse still, the perception that bullying behaviour is tacitly ignored or tolerated by management can have marked effects upon morale and productivity.
Tailored methods
Because of gender stereotypes that persist regarding the need for men to ‘suck it up’ following an attack like bullying, even good managers and HR staff can miss the indications that all is not well in the workplace. If a male staff member actually does approach HR for assistance around workplace bullying (often extremely challenging), initial contact must be supportive, inclusive and flexible in terms of availability and resource choices. Once the allegation is proved, helping the employee to slowly find ways to sustain his sense of self can greatly increase the chances of wellness being rebuilt, and the employment relationship continuing. 

In terms of policies and procedures relevant to the reporting and treatment of workplace bullying, make sure that these are professionally tailored for the individual workplace. For example, where gender composition or the nature of work could make personal reporting difficult in work hours, ensure that access to help is discreet, multi-channel and appropriate to the situation.
Walking beside
Being bullied – combined with gendered expectations about how they should react – can coalesce into a living nightmare for men in the workplace. Be sure to assist male employees to navigate the difficult path to equilibrium following an incident of workplace bullying. With accessible resources, tailored policies and suitable support, employers can actively assist men in the workplace as they regain their post-bullying sense of self.

NEED A SPECIALIST?  ENGAGE AN EXPERT
WISE Workplace provides training courses and masterclasses in investigations for HR practitioners, workplace investigators and managers.  Our courses are designed and taught by investigators specifically designed for those engaged in the investigation of workplace misconduct including bullying and harassment.  See below for upcoming course dates

Conducting workplace investigations advanced
(Articulates with Cert IV in Government Investigations)

Location: Sydney
Date: 6-8 May 2015

Location: Canberra
Date: 20-22 May 2015


Sliding towards Corruption - Conflict of Interest in Government

- Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Conflict of Interest
Conflict of Interest: A Source of Corruption in Government

It is an unfortunate reality that supposedly small conflicts of interest can grow into fully-fledged corruption. Within government, conflicts of interest can at first seem like the most minor of issues. Certainly, small favours might be given or suppliers provided with minor inside information. Perhaps friends are awarded short-term contracts without an entirely complete tender process being applied. Especially when time and/ or money is a crucial factor, these can seem like small conflicts compared to the bigger task of getting the main job done. After all, aren’t we trying to become more business-like in our government practices? We explain why it is a slippery slope from ‘mere’ conflict of interest, to corruption in government activities.

Where’s the conflict?

Conflict of interest involves the unacceptable overlapping of personal and public interests. Let’s take an example from the political realm. We have all seen red-faced ministers admit that they own undisclosed shares in a company whose activities fall within their industry portfolio. One personal interest – the shares – has a direct clash with their public responsibility, being the privilege of holding elected public office. There is often a ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ element to conflict of interest in government. After all, stakeholder engagement is an increasingly important part of public roles. Plus, all levels of government are now generally being driven towards private-style operational modes. In the face of this reality, it can be hard to separate good service from conflict of interest.

Navigating the space

One important element of identifying conflicts of interest is perception. In reality, a government worker might have absolutely no intention of using their privilege, connection to industry or policy knowledge to advance their own interests. Yet even if a conflict of interest is only perceived to exist – rather than actually being real – the damage might already be done. It is important for all public officers to declare and discuss potential conflicts, both real and perceived. What might only seem a minor issue can in fact have a large impact upon the public trust that is attached to a person, unit or department. In short, it is best to err on the side of caution when identifying and declaring potential conflicts of interest.

An insidious slide

Conflicts of interest left unchecked can become the perfect seeds for enduring corruption in government. When the initial conflicts go unnoticed or undeclared, a culture of corrupt action and decision-making will often begin to emerge. Particularly where a conflict produces improper gains that are small ‘in the grand scheme of things’, it can seem to the parties involved that nothing particularly bad is going on. For government workers who consider their pay insufficient, their outside activities more important or their ambitions essential, it can seem that a small beneficial conflict is completely inconsequential. Yet the ongoing repetition or development of the conflicted behaviour is a sure-fire pathway to outright corruption. Another way that conflicts of interest can evolve into full-scale corrupt behaviour is where the culture and/or senior management adopts a permissive attitude towards the practice – or even initiates it. Unethical and corrupt behaviour can then combine to become the new normal.

Maintaining integrity

When personal gains are made at the expense of public trust – or even when a perception of this prevails – the potential for corruption within government is pronounced. One ongoing challenge for public sector bodies is developing policy and training resources that actually embed themselves into workplace culture. Conflicts of interest and corruption can sometimes be given a simple ‘tick’ in terms of corporate documentation and practices. Thorough risk analysis and practical ethics training can go some way to ensuring conflict-minimisation, and the prevention of corruption within government workplaces.  

Essential Tips for Using Timelines During Interviews

- Tuesday, April 07, 2015
How to Use Timelines in Interviews
How to Use Timelines in Interviews

When conducting an investigative interview in the workplace, finding out exactly ‘who did what when’ can be somewhat easier said than done. Because we are generally interviewing a number of people and collating various documents and/ or items, we need to find ways to accurately collect and reconcile the information on hand. One useful tool to use during the investigative process is a timeline of relevant dates, times and events. During and after each interview with witnesses, a well-constructed chronology has a number of important uses.

Recording time

Prior to commencing witness interviews, set out a clear timeline document that can be populated as you go along. Software for this purpose is available, but a simple spreadsheet can be very effective. The three basic columns will be Event, Time/Date and Source. You can also add an extra column within Time/ Date if events are reported to have occurred over a period of time, for example March 7 to March 20. ‘Source’ might be a witness that you interview, or items such as policies, correspondence or records. Also make sure that you are completely confident with your chosen format – having informed your witness that you will be taking notes, it can be off-putting if you are struggling with your admin tools during the course of the interview.

The comparison of chronologies

In the initial collection of data in your timeline, start with the least controversial data that you have. For example, the incident in question might have occurred at the office Christmas party, which is documented and confirmed as being December 17, 2014. Less clear issues around time and date can then be discussed during interview. Yet it is incredibly important not to utilise leading questions as your timeline develops, and interviews roll along. To illustrate – Witness 1 might have stated that she left the party around 11pm. Witness 2 should not then be asked: “Did you see Witness 1 leave at around 11pm?” 

Potential ways to maintain the integrity of the interview and the timeline data in this instance could be to ask open questions along the lines of: “Can you remember seeing Witness 1 leave the party?” and if affirmative, “What time would that have been, approximately?”

The issue of discrepancies

As your timeline fills out, it is often the case that discrepancies will arise both around facts and times. For the purposes of the overall workplace investigation, some of these might be negligible and/or able to be explained by other factors (such as the possible haziness of time at a Christmas party!) However, other glaring clashes in your timeline will need further investigation or analysis. It is vitally important that you don’t discard out of hand one witness’s version of dates and times as wrong, instead favouring more ‘cogent’ versions of events. In the interests of natural justice, seek a fair and open method to resolve the discrepancy.

Let us say that you have telephone and computer records indicating that Witness 3 was at work on December 17, 2014. Yet Witness 3 states clearly and repeatedly that she did not work from the office that day. Putting the contradictory information from the records to Witness 3 is essential for natural justice. And she might just reveal with a little embarrassment that her work colleagues all share passwords for convenience: Witness 2 prefers Witness 3’s workstation with a view, and always uses her computer and phone while the other is out. With some more digging, this placement of Witness 3 out of the office on the date in question might well be verified.

Time is of the essence

Using a timeline to trace and develop the chronological aspect of your investigation is highly recommended. Without a precise and cross-checked ordering of events, there is a danger that procedural fairness will be hampered during the interview process, as illustrated above. When compiling a professional and accessible investigation report, a quality graphic timeline will prove itself to be a must-have tool.

The Ripple Effect - Bullying Impacts on Observers too

- Tuesday, March 31, 2015
The Impacts of Bullying on Observers
Eye of the Beholder: The Impacts of Bullying on Observers

The all-too-clear effects of bullying upon targeted workers have been closely studied across many years. In a bid to reduce bullying-related injuries and impairments, employers have worked hard to prevent and detect bullies in the workplace. Yet how do those who observe bullying behaviour – yet escape it themselves – tend to fare? Recent findings are beginning to shed light upon the other, often-forgotten people involved in workplace bullying – those who have to observe such behaviour. 

Missing from data, missing from view

In 2014, Cooper-Thomas and colleagues noted that observers of workplace bullying are indeed often left outside of analyses of bullying behaviours at work. Yet with one British study indicating that 46.5% of respondents see themselves as being observers of workplace bullying, it is certainly timely to address the impacts of bullying not only upon targets, but also the unfortunate witnesses of such behaviour. 

Negative effects

It has now been established that observing bullying can raise a number of negative emotional states in the individual. A witness may feel concern for the victim, worry for themselves, and stressful empathic visions of being ‘in the other’s shoes’. Just like direct victims of bullying, observers tend to develop a negative perception of the overall work environment. Compared to personnel with no exposure to workplace bullying, victims, observers and observer/victims generally experience significantly low morale. And not surprisingly, workplaces with high rates of bullying exhibit high conflict, ambiguous role definitions, and unfair leader behaviour. It appears that if we add the numbers of observers to the numbers of victims of workplace bullying, the overall negative effects upon workplace morale and productivity are considerably multiplied.

Constructive management

In the same way as victims of bullying, observers of bullying can suffer psycho-social stress, burnout and an acutely negative attitude towards work. This can flow through to role engagement and productivity, as workers’ wellbeing becomes taxed by these negative observations. Interestingly, the phenomenon of bullying was found to be associated much more with laissez-faire management styles than constructive or assertive styles. That is, when managers are disorganised, hands-off and looking the other way, more bullying arises.

The ripple effect

As well as the negative effects that victims and observers reported, it became clear in the work of Cooper-Thomas et al that the organisation itself suffers as the experience of bullying rises. In this way, there is a discernible ‘ripple effect’ caused by bullying in the workplace. Flowing out from the individual impacts on targets and observers, bullying behaviour causes marked negative effects on reported staff turnover and satisfaction, as well as morale and productivity across the workplace.

Reduce the bullying experience – get constructive

So for employers, it appears that concentrating only upon those effects that bullying has upon single ‘targets’ can be somewhat myopic. Rippling out through targets, bullying observers and then to the wider organisation, the overall negative effects of this behaviour can be vastly underestimated. One of the strongest preventative measures for both bullying and the ripple effect was found to be constructive leadership techniques. 

Where communication is clear, roles are well defined and reporting procedures are accessible, bullying itself tends to dwindle in prevalence. Constructive managers will no doubt need to maintain vigilance against the impacts of bullying. This will necessarily involve not only stopping a bully in their tracks, but also dealing assertively and professionally with the fall-out caused by any ripple effect.  An audit of current reporting procedures, anti-bullying training and risk factors will also go a long way to preventing unacceptable behaviours in the workplace.

Preventing Employee Theft Without Losing Your Shirt

- Tuesday, March 24, 2015
The High Costs of Employee Theft
The High Cost of Employee Theft: Is it Happening to You?

It can be a shock to discover that theft is occurring in your workplace. Each of your staff may have shone at recruitment, with no visible trust issues apparent. So how can we reconcile our valuable personnel with the fact that theft regularly occurs in the workplace? What did we miss? Let’s take a look at the typical way in which workplace theft occurs, plus some startling statistics about the costs to industry. 

The many ways to thieve

On shop floors, at workstations and in warehouses, Australians are stealing an accumulated $2 billion from retail employers alone each year, according to the Australian Retailers Association. Cold hard cash and inventory are certainly among the most popular ways for staff to steal from the workplace. In fact, staff members tend to pilfer from workplaces at approximately the same rate as customers. And for ordinary customers, we enjoy a 3% added cost to our purchases, courtesy of employee theft. But there are other, less obvious methods by which staff can fatten their pay packets. False invoices, inflated petty cash claims, sneaky discounts to friends, personal activities in company time, irregular credit transactions, undeclared client gifts, falsified documents and inaccurate time sheet entries can all work to strip away from the employer’s bottom line. 

Who and why?
We would perhaps not be surprised to learn that a lower-paid cashier has had a hand in the till to help pay their rent or groceries. Yet such generalisations don’t necessarily hold in the context of the ‘average’ workplace thief. In fact, the staff who tend to steal the most from bosses are those in the higher-paid and higher-access executive roles. With access to financial resources such as company credit cards, cab vouchers and expense accounts, white collar managers unfortunately take the gong for the greatest theft in the workforce. And for those personnel involved in daily dealing with accounts, revenue and general finance, the temptation to thieve can also be extremely evident. It can be a simple case of opportunity meets temptation for those workers given the greatest trust. 
When the chips are down
It is perhaps not surprising that attempts by workers to steal tend to increase during times of economic downturn; costs climb and paying bills can become harder each day. And it is also at this time that employers are actually more likely to take a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and theft. It is important, however, for workplaces to take a measured stance on workplace theft reduction. This includes not making any hasty decisions once a thief is detected. 
Tips for employers
If an employee is suspected of theft, it is important for management to carry out an objective and professional investigation. Rather than jump to any conclusions, be sure to implement a process that adheres to the principles of procedural fairness. It is also important to regularly check and update your policies and procedures around fraud and theft. As part of this, ensure that the employment contract you use at recruitment has strong and clear explanations of the types of misdemeanour that will not be tolerated. Think also about your staff morale, including strategies for keeping employees content. There is a direct link between unhappy workplaces and the amount of theft engaged in by workers. Also think carefully about the right steps to take once theft is uncovered. It might be tempting to make an example of the employee who slips a stapler into his backpack, coming down swiftly and hard. Yet instant dismissal in such a case – particularly if the worker’s record is otherwise unblemished – might lead to unfortunate legal repercussions for the business. Work out if this is something with sufficient gravity to warrant calling the police, or if internal measures might suffice. 
Keep it clear
Humans are of course a rather self-serving lot. Petty thievery might unfortunately be here to stay. Yet employers can take assertive measures to reduce the likelihood of workplace theft. First, develop and regularly check or policies and processes related to staff fraud and theft. Secondly, take measured action in relation to any allegations, and seek advice if you are uncertain about the best response. And finally – aim for a workplace with high morale and clear communication, to help reduce the temptation for wrongdoing among your staff.  

Picture it! Enhancing memory recall in interviews

- Tuesday, March 17, 2015
reasonable action
Using Sketches to Trigger Memory in Interviews

Professional investigators face one challenging adversary – human memory. The deterioration of memories over time, plus a number of ‘tricks’ that the brain can play when attempting to recall information has often frustrated professionals in the field. The well-known PEACE model of interviewing certainly assists workplace investigators to structure a cogent and methodical interview. Yet how can the quality of retrieved information be enhanced, let alone be guaranteed as factual? These qualitative problems have led to the use of innovative methods for increasing the integrity of memories retrieved from the human mind. We examine one of these methods – the use of sketches to trigger memories in the interviewee. 

Recalling PEACE

In the early 1990s, British psychologists and law enforcement professionals worked together to enhance the investigative interview process. The PEACE model encouraged interviewers to take a methodical approach to interviews, stepped through as follows: 

  • Prepare (Understand the problem, key personnel and the overall investigation plan) 
  • Engage (Establish rapport and a relaxed environment prior to questioning) 
  • Account (Obtain information via a variety of methods) 
  • Closure (Summarise, and invite interviewee to add further material) 
  • Evaluate (Assess the quality and relevance of material in relation to overall plan)    

The PEACE method provides many benefits that were previously unavailable to workplace investigators. Yet some shortcomings have included the length of time needed to complete interviews, as well as some persisting problems with memory quality. With our understanding of human cognitive processes increasing with each decade, some innovative methods for cross-checking memory data have greatly assisted the interviewer’s quest for reliable information. 

The fallible memory

Noting phenomena such as reconstructionist tendencies and possible false memory in humans, researchers of cognitive interviewing practices began to see that unintentional fabrication was a part of many interview scenarios. Memory deteriorates over time, plus the mind tries to fill gaps with embellishments where necessary. How could these difficult aspects of memory be reduced? At the Account phase of PEACE, it was known that using multiple ways of accessing an interviewee’s memory of an event worked well to improve data quality. 

At first, the interviewer might ask for a chronological recount. Next, they would perhaps ask the interviewee to discuss a few events in reverse order. And this could be followed with recall of a mental image of a relevant site, followed by a description given in words. This cross-checking of approaches has proved to be invaluable for the triangulation and more accurate retrieval of memory data. So where might sketches fit in? 

A sketched moment
As part of the arsenal of interview techniques available to the workplace investigator, an interviewee’s visual sketched recall of an incident can prove invaluable. Talking, by itself, will sometimes not be a good fit for particular interviewees. Some have limited English and/or vocabulary resources, leading to a stilted and possibly low-value interview outcome. And even where an interviewee is voluble in their recount, sketching key places or moments can greatly strengthen the utility of memories retrieved. 

The cognitive interview process involving a sketched component might flow as follows: 

The interviewee reveals that something took place in the car park with a manager. A workplace interviewer could ask for a sketch of the carpark, complete with any people and vehicles noted (stick figures and rectangles are fine!) These could be labelled with names, colours, distances, doorways and other relevant features. It is important to maintain open questions and an encouraging tone. 

The sketched result might then jog a memory, raise further questions and/or allow momentum in the interview to continue flowing. It might also confirm or bring into question the interviewee’s earlier responses and allow space for any clarification. A door has opened, and facts can begin to be verified and tested. 

Multiple methods

Sketches obtained during a PEACE-based interview process can add significantly to both the interview itself and the information retrieved. At the stages of Preparation and Engagement, it helps to be prepared with appropriate materials and an idea of which questions might be suited to this method. Let the interviewee know that some sketching might be an option during the interview. With the Account phase, cross-check any sketch with any other memory-retrieval data, such as chronological recount. And at Closure and Evaluation, assess how or if the method assisted in heightening the quality of the overall interview outcomes. Adding sketched memory to your interviewing tool-kit could certainly prove a useful method for gaining the best available information for your report.

Reasonable Action? FWC ruling on Willis

- Tuesday, March 10, 2015
reasonable action
Reasonable Action? FWC ruling on Willis

In a recent matter before Commissioner Lewin of the Fair Work Commission (FWC), some rather interesting findings were made around the question of ‘reasonable management action’. The case in question, Willis v Gibson & Anors, highlighted the reality that a jurisdictional challenge made upon such a basis will be closely examined. 

Communication difficulties

The employer in this case, Capital Radiology, undertook various actions against an employed radiographer named Mr Willis. The employer cited elements of rudeness in Mr Willis’ manner, as well as problems with his written communication. Capital Radiology proceeded to engage the worker in a process that appeared at times to be disciplinary, and at others times had the hallmarks of performance management. Mr Willis, believing that he was being bullied by members of the employer’s management team as a result of this action, sought relief from the Commission in the form of an order under s 789FC of the Fair Work Act 2009. A jurisdictional objection was raised by the employer, contending that the facts upon which Mr Willis relied reflected reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable way. 

Proportionality and misunderstanding

Of particular note was the lack of proportionality between the performance in question and the action taken. Commissioner Lewin noted that disciplinary action needed to represent a "reasonable and proportionate response to the attributes of the employee to which it is directed." The main problems detected by the employer and voiced in a letter of September 4, 2014 involved issues around inefficiency, following directions, attitude and rudeness. The letter to Mr Willis was entitled ‘Disciplinary Process’. 

Earlier, the question of Mr Willis’ email communication had been discussed, and Mr Willis had actually been making attempts to improve in this area. The same was noted by the Commissioner in relation to his adherence to medical imaging processes, which he was working on at the time of the letter. 

The FWC explained that the employer’s negative view of Mr Willis’ manner of communicating had led to an over-reaction when it came to the action taken. As Commissioner Lewin states: “One person’s rudeness may be another person’s frankness.” Mr Willis felt that his employment was threatened by way of the Disciplinary Process letter, leading to his application for an order pursuant to s789FC of the Act. 

Conflation versus clarity

Commissioner Lewin also pointed out how lack of clarity around Capital’s management action processes contributed to the confusion and distress of the worker. Policies around performance management were not separated from disciplinary action for performance-based issues. This contributed to the worker becoming uncertain about his job status, as the processes taken were both confusing and seemingly arbitrary. 

The Commissioner indicated that the procedures carried out by management until September 4, 2014 in all likelihood constituted performance management, rather than disciplinary action per se. As examples, requests for improvement were communicated to Mr Willis and he then proceeded to work on these issues. To then have the language of ‘Disciplinary Process’ brought in from September 4 constituted a threatening situation that did not correlate with the alleged behaviour in question. 

Commissioner Lewin summarises succinctly: “Management action will not be taken reasonably where it places an employee under pressure when the action is not commensurate with the behaviour that is the basis of the disciplinary action.” The employer’s disciplinary objection to the application was not made out, clearing the way for consideration of the substance of Mr Willis’ bullying claim. 

Processes, actions and reasonableness

The matter of Willis reminds us that employers’ HR policies and procedures – particularly regarding issues of performance management and/ or disciplinary action – must be clear both in terms of content and application. As managers work towards facilitating a high-performing workforce, care must be taken to differentiate unambiguously between performance and disciplinary issues. 

Further, any action must be commensurate with the employee’s behaviour. The delicate balance between rudeness and assertiveness in an employee for example must be carefully worked out and an appropriate response devised. And despite frustrating mannerisms and personalities, an employee who is working on their foibles is probably doing what is required under a performance management process. To avoid problems around the ‘reasonableness’ or otherwise of management action, a clear and proportionate response to difficult employees should be developed.

Paedophile at Work: What Now?

- Tuesday, February 24, 2015
You Just Discovered a Worker May Be a Paedophile: What Now?
You Just Discovered a Worker May Be a Paedophile: What Now?

Finding out that someone you know might be a paedophile can cause quite a shock. And when that person is an employee, a whole raft of questions can surface at once. Who reported this, and in what manner? How should you go about finding out the facts in the fairest way possible? Plus – how might a risk assessment be useful in the workplace around this issue? Importantly, don’t jump to conclusions. Thoughtful action and fair processes should be at the heart of everything that you do. 

How did this come to light?

The way in which the discovery occurred can directly affect your first actions. Consider a very grave case, such as where an employee who works with children has been witnessed by others engaging in inappropriate behaviour. This would require immediate action directed towards the welfare and safety of all concerned. Professionalism and restraint are essential in such circumstances. 

At the other end of the reporting spectrum, the nature of notification might be more speculative. If rumours about an employee arise regarding their apparent pedophiliac behaviour and opinions, it is important to take a more measured approach. Procedural fairness requires that unverified opinions be carefully analysed before any action is taken. A standard workplace investigation process would be an appropriate course of action in such cases. 

NB: Some jurisdictions have mandatory reporting and investigation requirements - make sure you know if you are required to report to ensure compliance.

Disclosure issues

Unfortunately the law is quite a grey area regarding disclosures required from employees at recruitment. Without specific mention being made in an employment contract, courts often determine that employees are not obliged to report former misconduct.  A well-drafted employment contract can, however, go some way to ensuring that particular types of past misconduct are revealed to the future employer. It is the coverage contained in this contract that can make a world of difference down the track. It might seem quite disturbing, but in medical terms a paedophile is not considered a criminal per se. What should concern employers is the presence of any past or potential child abuse actions, such as child molestation. It is therefore behaviour – past and present – that must be considered. 

Finding out the facts

As noted above, how you go about investigating the discovery of a potential paedophile in the workplace requires a careful and professional approach. The first issue is timing. If the dire scenario of inappropriate dealing with children in a workplace is reported, immediate action is needed prior to a more in-depth inquiry. Depending upon the strength of initial evidence, a period of instant stand-down might be necessary for the worker. Immediate safety for all involved should be provided, plus police assistance where necessary. Yet if the case is more one of speculation and innuendo, a thorough and measured workplace investigation might be more appropriate. 

The fair investigation
Where the initial information is less clear and/or children are not in the worker’s vicinity, an investigation should commence – premised on procedural fairness. Whether this is internal or external will depend upon workplace resources and capabilities. Documents such as the employment contract used at recruitment, any hard-drive material extricated by IT, and statements from colleagues might be some of the materials used within the investigation. Fairness demands that the worker in question be given an opportunity to comprehend and respond to any allegations made. A designated support person and the recording of discussions would be prudent measures to adopt. 
Conducting a risk assessment

With some researchers estimating the prevalence of paedophilic drive in the male community alone at 0.5-1%, the reality is that potential harm in and around the workplace is a live issue. It is of course impossible at interview to vet workers for all potential behavioural problems. Yet you can certainly assess for risk, and make any alterations that appear necessary. Some workplace features to look for when assessing paedophilia-related risk are: 

  • Targeted recruitment processes, including past-employment analysis, prior misconduct checks, criminal history checks and psychometric testing. Referee checking without exception. 
  • Widely-disseminated education materials within the workplace about what is/ is not appropriate in terms of behaviour, computer use, and personal interaction etc. 
  • Clear and specific directives for employees who work with children, including adult/ child ratios, plus touch, toileting and communication protocols. 
  • Appropriate space and lighting features to ensure open work areas. 
  • Well-publicised reporting procedures for workers, enabling fast and responsive action where problems are detected or suspected.    

If significant risks are revealed around potential paedophiliac behaviour in the workplace, a plan for rectification will be in order. Where employees are working with children, this would almost certainly become a matter of necessity. Because however busy you might be – some measures are worth taking the time to get right. 

Four Steps to a Great Investigation Report

- Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Steps to a Great Investigation Report
Four Steps to a Great Investigation Report

By the time a workplace investigator has reached the stage of compiling the investigation report, many hours, documents and interview outcomes have no doubt accumulated. How to bring all of this together effectively into a quality report might seem quite challenging. Yet, by dividing the task of reporting into a step-by-step plan, the complex assortment of materials gleaned from your workplace investigation can be streamlined into a useful and professional report. 

Revise the brief

The first thing to consider before you begin compiling the report is whether or not the Terms of Reference (TOR) have been met. These were established at the beginning of the investigation between yourself and the employer, setting out the key people, queries and facts relevant to the task. With the TOR in mind, ask yourself if you have achieved all necessary aspects of the investigation. 

Prepare your draft

The best investigation reports are well planned and logically organised. With the Terms of Reference and your evidence on hand, you can begin to sketch out and double-check your preliminary findings. Let us say that you feel confident that an allegation of misconduct has proven true as a result of your investigation. You would double-check and note all evidence relevant to this particular incident, to ensure that available material does in fact support your finding. Issues of procedural fairness, such as the inclusion of all relevant witnesses, should be kept in mind. 

Write with future readers in mind

A well-structured workplace investigation report will have one or two key features. First, the format will be clear and sequential, with an easy-to-follow index of both the report body and appendices. Secondly, the language of the report should be as clear and non-technical as possible. Don’t forget that the employer wants a very clear idea of what happened and what you have found – not a file full of big words! Plain language ensures that your objectivity is on show. Also, make the report itself relatively brief. The heart of the report document itself should simply cover the following four core components, with appendices attached. Objective and neutral language is essential, in order to clearly demonstrate that procedural fairness has remained front-and-centre during the task. 

A logical sequence

Our four-part plan can help you set our your investigation report logically, ensuring the report is complete and easy to understand.   

Part 1 - Overview

The first part of the report, the introduction, will give a broad-brush overview of both the critical events and the process of the workplace investigation itself. A summary of the TOR, including all allegations and relevant parties, will be included. Following this, an accurate timeline of investigative activities is set out so that readers get a feel for how and when each allegation arose and was dealt with. In general, you are providing a birds-eye view of events preceding the report. 

Part 2 – Findings

These are your findings relevant to the allegations. This might seem premature, as you are yet to introduce the evidence. Yet, if we consider future readers of the document – employer, possible lawyers and/ or courts and tribunals – placement of the findings near the start of the report creates a user-friendly format. Set out each allegation, plus a short statement as to whether or not you are satisfied on the basis of the evidence that it is founded in fact. 

Part 3 – Evidence

In the third section of the investigation report, describe available evidence as it relates to the allegations in question. Clearly refer readers to the numbered appendices at the back of your report, so that statements can be crosschecked with particular evidence. For example, you might refer to sections from two transcripts which corroborate allegations of a third party’s behaviour. Ensure that the relevant sections are appended, and avoid emotive language (descriptions such “damning document” for example) to ensure that your compliance with procedural fairness is apparent to all. 

Part 4 – Summary and recommendations

Finally, part 4 will summarise your workplace investigation and the outcomes achieved. In particular, you will include any recommendations if requested in the TOR's. These should be numbered and refer back to the findings. As an example, you might structure a recommendation as follows: “Due to allegation B having been made out against Mr TL (refer page 1 of Findings), disciplinary action of X is recommended.” 

Strive to be thorough and clear

By checking for completeness, drafting well and utilising our four-part report outline, you can ensure that all of your hard investigative work pays off. Write plainly and set your work out logically. With a clear and objective approach, you can generate a workplace investigation report that will pass muster as being fair, useful and professional.    

Employees Working with Children? Do the Checks

- Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Employees Working With Children
Employees Working with Children? Do the Checks

Families are becoming busier than ever. More service options are being sought by parents each year around the education, entertainment and care of their children.  As a result of this, the number of Australian employees working with children continues to grow. From play centres to sports camps, music schools to roller blading businesses – wherever employees are working with children, the need for care on the part of employers is high. We explain why it is important not only for the safety of children, but also as part of sound business practice. 

On the cards
 For employers operating within one state or territory, the checks that need to occur when employees work with children can be relatively straightforward. Within each state, a Working with Children Check card (sometimes named slightly differently) will generally be mandated for all employees and volunteers who are working with children. Where a business covers more than one state or territory, it is important to understand any slight variations between the requirements of differing jurisdictions. For example, one state might have prescribed occupations that require checks, whereas others might leave the identification of relevant child-related roles to the employer. 
Checking the past 
Depending upon the nature of your business, a criminal history check can also be beneficial where employees are to be working with children. This is because the Working with Children Check is targeted towards the history of your employee only as it relates to children. To avoid any possibility for adverse outcomes, the criminal history check will enable you to take a broader snapshot of your worker’s past. Assault-based charges for example might have a bearing upon your decision to employ somebody to work with children. 
Necessary training
 In some business environments involving children, such as those with a water or outdoor element, employees will also be required to have completed current First Aid training. It is vital to establish under relevant regulations whether or not such training should be completed already, or can be obtained within a set timeframe. And where young children are involved, base-level child care qualifications are often a requirement for employees. 
Saving dollars? 
Sometimes in the hope of saving costs, employers will take shortcuts when employing people to work with children. Yet taking a person on face value about their past, letting the First Aid certificate slide or overlooking the absence of a certain qualification can lead to all manner of regrettable circumstances. As well as the heartache for all when a child is harmed, employers can face considerable legal and financial penalties for failing to undertake basic risk mitigation. 
Reducing risks
 There is no doubting that following the protective regulations around children can be time-consuming for the average employer. We all like to think that we are good judges of character, especially when it comes to the trustworthiness of our employees. And it can certainly be tempting to cut corners when vetting staff for our busy enterprises. But you can avoid significant problems down the track if the right checks and documents are obtained early on. Regular professional assessment of your current risk factors relevant to child-related work can ensure that your business is suitably equipped for the care of our youngest citizens.