Child Sexual Exploitation & Trafficking Conference Insights

- Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A wrap-up of the Children, Justice and Communication Conference at Portsmouth University, May 2017.  Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Children, Justice and Communication Conference at Portsmouth in the UK.  The conference is hosted by some of the world’s leading academics and practitioners working in the areas of child sexual exploitation, trafficking, child abuse, incest and more.  

Opened by Professor Ray Bull, the conference featured the work of Professor Becky Milne, Dr Julie Cherryman, Dr Lucy Akehurst and Professor Penny Cooper to name but a few. 

The audience, mostly police officers from the UK, represent those forward-thinking agencies and officers who want to make a change for the good and tackle some of the most challenging crimes. The number of police officers with higher research degrees is particularly impressive, and is having a massive impact on the quality of policing not only in Britain, but around the world.

Tackling challenging issues across the globe

Some of the issues covered on the first day included the conundrum of obtaining evidence from teenagers who have been exploited and trafficked but consider their actions to be consensual and complicit in the activities. How do we empower these individuals to become witnesses rather than to take on the persona of victim? 


Dr Brian Chappel, a senior police intelligence expert, spoke of the use of juveniles as critical intelligence sources necessary to infiltrate youth gangs. Interestingly, his research showed that the 10 informants who participated in his study were themselves free from any police intervention up to a year later. 


Dr Shaleve-Greene addressed the issues for agencies in handling or identifying the 10,000 unaccompanied migrant minors that go missing across Europe every year. This was another statistic to get my head around – this number reflects only those we know about who are missing and vulnerable to traffickers and exploitation. There are also tremendous challenges to local safeguarding children boards, such as the one operating in Kent on the south coast of Britain. 


Dr Sue Gower spoke about the services and educational needs of their staff when they take on responsibility for the children from their own county, a similar number from neighbouring counties, and then double the number to account for the unaccompanied immigrant minors arriving from Europe. 

How intermediaries are working successfully overseas

Professor Penny Cooper hosted a panel of experts who presented on a range of issues connected to the use of intermediaries who support and assist children and vulnerable adults to communicate with police, and courts. 


The NSW Department of Justice is currently trialling the use of intermediaries, so it was great to hear the many ingenious and fantastic ways these experts have of working with children to help them communicate. Convictions have been secured with the use of evidence from children as young as three-years-old. These presentations also addressed the increasingly common needs of children with autism spectrum disorder. 


As practitioners, it’s so important to stick our heads above the partition wall and have a look at the fantastic work going on around the world. 


WISE Workplace offers consulting and investigation services to assist and support workplaces in conducting fair and efficient investigations and developing comprehensive complaints processes.

Contact one of our offices to talk to an advisor about a free consultation.

A Perplexing Problem: Protecting Children Overseas

- Thursday, April 20, 2017


Every year billions of Australian dollars are provided to fund aid projects overseas. The money is targeted to assist developing countries with education, housing, health and community projects. Naturally children are a prime target group for these aid programs.  The majority of these organisations are funded by the Australian public via donations and government funding provided to not-for-profit organisations, many of them faith based organisations.

International rules and expectations govern the protocols for handling and responding to allegations related to child protection, however, enforcing these laws is a tricky business often involving multiple jurisdictions and multiple agencies who may disagree around responsibilities and liabilities.

Policies and procedures are not enough to protect children who are by definition amongst the most vulnerable in the world.

Small operations, voluntary management and high dependency on the goodwill of front end service delivery mitigate against strong child protection regimes. Poor oversight due to long distance, remoteness and cultural differences are also key features of this problem.

Funding bodies in Australia are expected to have high quality child protection systems and policies in place to gain government funding but the challenge of enforcing or even providing adequate training in the expectations to the end providers of the service can be beyond reach.

Now that we know that we cannot unquestioningly depend on the nature of goodly people to act without harming children, what cost do we place on the need to provide secure safe environments for children receiving charitable services?

Documents provided to the Guardian relating to the level of abuse within detention centres on Nauru demonstrate the abject failure of outsourced government funded programs. How then do we expect small voluntary projects to be faring against these standards?

It is clear that policies and procedures are woefully inadequate yet how much of the donated money do we want spent on compliance when it comes to protecting children?

WISE Workplace is regularly requested to undertake investigations of allegations made against staff overseas who are working or administering charitable projects. The work requires a high level understanding of the environment, the agency, funding requirements, boards and community management structures, and the local culture and cultural background of staff and service recipients. The work remains some of the most challenging to investigate. Weak employment relationships can lead to inconclusive outcomes and an inability to enforce any restrictions on volunteers in the field.

For those organisations with managers in Australia trying to manage complaints or allegations arising from activities overseas, using the support of experienced investigators can be a godsend melding the investigative skills of experienced child protection investigators with the cultural and service delivery expertise of the coordinators working for the agency.

Our top 10 list of must do’s if you are a coordinator of a charity funded project overseas:

  1. Nominate a single contact person with responsibility for dealing with complaints related to child protection within your agency

  2. Have clearly articulated Child Protection Standards and Guidelines

  3. Have clearly articulated procedures for dealing with complaints

  4. Understand the criminal law in the country of service delivery

  5. Understand the employee relationship between the funding body and the service providers on the ground

  6. Know your legal obligations under your primary funding agency agreement

  7. Respond quickly to complaints

  8. Conduct a risk assessment and take protective action if necessary

  9. Identify a suitable contact person on the ground in the foreign country to be a liaison pain

  10. Seek specialist help when complaints are serious or complex to investigate.

WISE Workplace runs regular training programs on the principles of undertaking workplace investigations. Our facilitators have extensive experience and expertise in managing all kinds of challenging investigations including running operations overseas via Skype using local contacts. Our unique Investigating Abuse in Care course provides valuable skills in how to assess complaints, reporting obligations, drafting allegations, interviewing victims and respondents, making decisions and maintaining procedural fairness. Book now for courses in May 2017.

Building Rapport in Investigative Interviews

- Wednesday, April 12, 2017


All workplaces are at risk of allegations of bullying, harassment, discrimination or other claims of misconduct or inappropriate dealings. As such, all employers must be prepared to conduct investigative interviews to determine the veracity and accuracy of any allegations made against or by one or more of their employees.

Apart from properly eliciting the facts, perhaps the most important thing in conducting such interviews is ensuring that there is sufficient rapport between the interviewer and the interviewee. This connection can result in more information being obtained from the interviewee, and also help ensure that more truthful answers are provided.

So what are our top tips on achieving this?

1. TAILOR YOUR APPROACH

There is no "one size fits all" approach when it comes to building rapport in investigative interviews, it's about tailoring the approach to suit the particular circumstances and the interviewee.

For example, there is probably little point running through a standard set of formal questions when interviewing children. Similarly, an employee who claims to be the victim of workplace bullying is unlikely to want to make idle small talk about how the company's netball team is faring in the local comp.

2. ASK QUESTIONS IN THE RIGHT WAY

It is crucial that interviewers are competent and know which questioning techniques to use in which situation in order to put the interviewee at ease and obtain quality information.

For example, taking the interviewee back in time to when the incident occurred can help with recall, while asking open-ended questions can assist in obtaining more detailed explanations.

3. MAKE THE INTERVIEWEE COMFORTABLE

One of the most important aspects of building rapport is to make sure the interviewee is relaxed. Ensure that there is adequate privacy for the interview to take place away from the prying eyes and ears of co-workers, and offer comfortable seating and beverages. It is essential to create a sense of trust in the interviewee, by making them comfortable, conveying an impression of competence and expertise, and by actively listening to them. If this occurs, the interviewee is more likely to feel comfortable divulging information.

4. MIRROR THE INTERVIEWEE TO BOND WITH THEM

A tip frequently utilised by law enforcement officials in conducting investigative interviews is to mirror the interviewee. This involves actively listening to what the interviewee is saying and "mirroring" or reflecting their mental state and emotions, such as expressing frustration about the way in which they have been treated, demonstrating understanding and validation of their feelings, and acknowledging that their experiences are significant and potentially very destabilising.

Mirroring is also closely aligned with the principle of reciprocity, which suggests that interviewees will respond in a way which matches the interviewer's attitude towards and interaction with them. An empathetic or obviously interested interviewer will doubtlessly elicit more information than one with an aggressive or unpleasant style.

It is particularly important to find factors of commonality and shared experiences if there is a power imbalance between the interviewer and the interviewee (such as a relationship of employer and employee or an external workplace investigator who is effectively a stranger). This can be as simple as discussing recent weather events, the traffic or sporting teams.

OBTAINING PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE

Conducting investigative interviews generally can be challenging. For more tips on how to undertake interviews in the workplace, participate in one of our upcoming advanced training courses on conducting investigations.

Alternatively, if you prefer to obtain expert assistance from the get-go, Wise Workplace provides full investigation services. Contact us today to find out how we can help with your workplace investigations.

Bullying: What's the Role of Leadership?

- Wednesday, April 05, 2017


Workplace bullying is somewhat of a scourge in modern society. Broadly categorised by Reach Out Australia as any behaviour which is physically, mentally or socially threatening and takes place in the employment context, it can have an enormous impact on staff effectiveness, employee retention, the number and type of worker's compensation claims and, of course, employee happiness.

Legally, employers have a responsibility to ensure that all workplaces are safe for their staff, including preventing workplace bullying. So what are the key things business leaders should be doing to tackle this problem?

1. PREVENTION IS THE BEST CURE

Perhaps the easiest way to deal with workplace bullying is to try and ensure that it does not happen. As suggested by Safework Australia, workplace bullying can best be prevented by the leadership team identifying potential risk factors within the organisation for bullying.

In addition to ensuring that new staff, wherever possible, are likely to mesh with other employees and not experience personality clashes, this process should also involve regular consultation with employees as to their levels of job satisfaction and the quality of interaction with co-workers, conducting exit interviews with departing employees, obtaining regular feedback and ensuring that there are detailed incident reports recording complaints and other potential instances of workplace bullying behaviour.

Being aware of possible triggers for workplace bullying can also be an effective strategy, for example, awareness of the various leadership styles in the organisation. Ensuring adequate communication between management and employees and requesting forthright feedback on work styles and interactions can help to reduce the risk of workplace bullying significantly.

2. LISTEN TO THE ALLEGED VICTIM - AND THE ALLEGED PERPETRATOR

It is important for leaders to be empathetic and open when speaking with a claimed victim of workplace bullying. Remember that the person alleging bullying, whether this has actually taken place or not, is already harbouring strong negative feelings about the workplace, or at the very least certain people in the workplace.

A heavy-handed or suspicious approach by the employer is likely to further upset the employee and worsen the ongoing impact and consequences of the bullying. At the same time, a leader investigating a workplace bullying claim does not need to blindly accept everything put forward by the apparent victim.

Both the "bully" and the "victim" are the employer's responsibility, and both are therefore entitled to have their full version of events listened to and acted upon appropriately.

3. TAKE DETAILED CONTEMPORANEOUS NOTES 

In the worst case scenario, an employee's bullying allegations may become the subject of legal proceedings.

This means a record of conversations and interactions between senior staff and claimed victims of workplace bullying may become essential evidence. In any event, regardless of the possible outcome, it is always best practice to ensure that all conversations with management are properly recorded, not least to make sure that further claims of workplace bullying are not levelled against management!

4. ENSURE IMPARTIALITY 

Depending on the size and type of your workplace, ensuring that investigations are conducted impartially may be difficult. In certain cases, it may be more appropriate to engage external workplace investigators to review workplace bullying complaints.

However, if employers choose to keep investigations in-house, prejudgement of the ‘facts’ or a bias toward one side or the other must be avoided. Where possible, it can be helpful to task someone who doesn’t work directly with either party with the investigation.

Negotiating the many tricky aspects of investigating workplace bullying complaints can be very stressful. At Wise Workplace, we provide advanced training courses in conducting workplace investigations, to make you and your leadership team as self-sufficient as possible. Register for an upcoming course date now.

Unexplained Injuries in Care – 3 Tips for Investigators

- Wednesday, March 29, 2017
unexplained injuries in care

It goes without saying that injuries occur in all workplaces, not just the community sector. Yet there are certain unexplained injuries within care environments that should receive particular attention.

We set out our top three 3 tips for investigators when confronted with an unexplained injury allegation in aged or disability care contexts.

1. FULLY UNDERSTAND THE CARE ENVIRONMENT

Those charged with investigating claims of abuse by carers have a challenging task. Both circumstances and injuries can be ill-defined, with sometimes little to go on in terms of firm evidence. This is due primarily to the nature of childcare and other care environments – vulnerable people often have difficulty explaining that workplace violence hasoccurred.

Patients can be in a frail or vulnerable state for example, with high dependency on assistance with personal care. Bathing, dressing and feeding in sometimes tight spaces with over-worked staff can lead to a number of unintended injuries for both carers and patients alike. The complexities are substantial. However, the need to fully understand when an injury is a reportable incident under new legislation is vital.

Clients and family members might point to an unexplained injury and assume that the care environment is to blame. Yet investigators should assume nothing as they take careful stock of the facilities, mechanisms and personnel involved in that particular care arrangement.

2. INVESTIGATE FAIRLY THROUGH EMOTIONAL TERRAIN

Good investigators know to treat everyone equally during workplace investigations. We maintain a professional demeanour and ensure that all relevant people are heard. Yet communication by investigators in the aged and disability care can require a unique approach to objectivity.

Clients or family members in these environments can express shock, outrage and complete certainty when it comes to the investigation of an unexplained injury. And investigators themselves might be emotionally swayed when faced with allegations of child abuse, elder abuse or disability abuse.

However, an unexplained injury is exactly that – unexplained. Taking into account the communication needs of the client, the tangle of information supplied by families, plus available documentation at the workplace, it is critical to refrain from drawing any inferences throughout the investigation.

3. ComMUNICATE APPROPRIATELY WHEN nEEDS ARE UNIQUE

We need to take into account the particular communication needs of those vulnerable individuals claiming elder abuse, child abuse or disability abuse by a carer. For example, specific communication technologies, scribing assistance, emotional support and/ or advocacy services might form an integral part of investigations into unexplained injuries.

It is essential to understand the nature of the assistance and make objective determinations around interviewing methods. Questions might include: is the scribe or support person related to the injured client? Does the client appear both willing and able to engage with the interviewer? Is there any visible fear, withdrawal or discomfort?

As a corollary, it is vital to avoid any dismissive or patronising communication techniques when interviewing the person in aged, child or disability contexts. We should never assume that they cannot or won’t communicate – particularly if someone else in the room tells us this! As well as having to sport an unexplained injury, it would be disappointing indeed if the injured party leaves an interview feeling ignored, pressured or misunderstood.

THE UNEXPLAINED INJURY – TAKING CARE

Workplace investigators must be extremely careful not to jump to any conclusions when an unexplained injury arises in aged or disability contexts. Keep in mind our three top tips on understanding, fairness and communication in care environments. This will help you to create and manage the best possible workplace investigation. After all, Australians are known for looking after each other well, and a good investigation can ensure that unexplained injuries in the caring sector are dealt with fairly at every turn. 

Our upcoming must-do 2017 investigation training will give you the best possible tools for tackling unexplained injuries in aged and disability care. Join is there, or get in touch to access our top-selling Workplace Investigation Toolkit, plus other professional resources to assist your investigations. 

The Key Warning Signs of Grooming and Sexual Manipulation

- Wednesday, March 22, 2017

warning signs of grooming

As the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has painfully revealed, our most trusted institutions have at times mishandled some of the worst cases of child abuse imaginable.

It is becoming clear to us as a nation that the trust given by children and other vulnerable people to individuals in positions of power is boundless. And it is this trust that can become hijacked via the insidious tactics of grooming and sexual manipulation.

Standing outside of the abhorrent situation, we might ask – how on earth could this happen? Wouldn’t a sexual predator be immediately visible to an employer in a child-focused setting? However, grooming and sexual manipulation work in such a subtle way that even other adults close to the situation can be lulled into a false sense of security.

The new NSW legislation on Reportable Conduct has commendably included grooming as a distinct behaviour that must be reported in child care contexts. It is therefore essential that all child-related employers become aware of the warning signs of child grooming and sexual manipulation in the workplace.

Warning Sign 1: The special relationship

Grooming behaviour can manifest as the slow development of a special relationship between a worker and a particular child or children in care. This might involve the giving of privileges, compliments or treats that might be held back from other children. The child can develop a strong sense of trust and even enjoyment from this relationship, particularly if fun and friendship appear to be the key drivers. Such children might previously have been at the less-confident or lonely end of development, with the perpetrator appearing to have commendably ‘drawn out’ the child.

Warning Sign 2: Returning favours

Once a seemingly trust-based relationship is in place, the perpetrator of child abuse will often connect their special gifts and words with requests for touching and/or emotional favours from the child in return. At first this might not seem like an unpleasant or abusive situation in the mind of an innocent child – after all, they have identified this adult as a friend to be trusted. Observers might in fact see a child drawn to a particular carer quite intensely. It can be heartbreaking to think that this could be the middle stages of a targeted grooming strategy.

Warning Sign 3: The conflicted or ‘acting out’ child

When behaviours gradually move into sexual talk, touching or more overt acts, the perpetrator of child abuse can take a more sexually manipulative stance against the child. The child might resist the abuser, but can be manipulated into continuance of the inappropriate relationship through emotional blackmail. One of the earlier favours granted to the child such as gifts, treats or special games might be threatened or recalled. The child can then become anxious and in some cases will actively seek to appease the sexual abuser. Observers of the situation might see contradictory signs between the once-friendly employee and child. Behaviourally, the child could lash out at others or experience a regression in development.

Make knowledge your strength

Thankfully there is now so much research occurring around grooming behaviours and sexual manipulation in care settings. Further, Australian legislatures are slowly but determinedly developing laws to protect children and to enable the effective reporting of inappropriate conduct in the workplace.

Child sexual abuse tends to arise not from some caricature of an evil villain but in fact via a subtle conflation of grooming, manipulation, child vulnerability and institutional ‘blind spots’. Codes of conduct and training on professional boundaries are just some of the methods that can assist employers in combating the scourge of child sexual abuse by carers.

We actively investigate and advise upon issues within child-focused workplaces. In addition, we have handled grooming complaints between remote student teacher networks, top sporting organisers and athletes, elderly residents in a mixed care facility, bus drivers and passengers, disabled individuals and in-home carers. Every case requires skill, sensitivity and an unbiased examination of the evidence.

Join us in our enduring quest to make workplaces safe for all concerned - not just owners and workers, but for those precious Australian children who inherently trust the adults around them. We are proud to be presenting purpose-built training on Abuse in Care in coming months. Give us a call for further details.

Criminal Conduct and the Likelihood of Conviction in Care

- Wednesday, March 15, 2017




It is a great tragedy that the most vulnerable people in society – children, the elderly and the disabled – often fall victim to the most heinous types of abuse in care settings.  
In some cases, the abuse can be obvious, such as when there is physical assault that results in visible injuries. At other times, the abuse is much subtler and more difficult to detect, as is the case where there is grooming for intended sexual abuse, financial abuse or general neglect.
Regardless of the type of criminal conduct perpetrated against the disabled, the elderly or children, an even greater tragedy is that it can be extremely difficult to record convictions against the abusers.

Obstacles to conviction

One obstacle which arises in the care sector is that there is an apparent reluctance to report abuse or other criminal actions such as fraud or theft. In part, this may be due to the power imbalance between carer and client, a fear that the reporter may not be believed or taken seriously or, perhaps worse, because for one reason or another, the client may not actually realise that what has happened to them constitutes criminal conduct. Another potential reason for non-disclosure of criminal conduct may be because the client is legitimately concerned that they will lose access to a care worker who is providing them with much needed assistance and support, regardless of the criminal conduct they are also committing.

Many cases of elder abuse, disability abuse or child abuse are heavily reliant on the victim's version of events and, if this is not provided, there is a significant dearth of information upon which a conviction can be secured.
A further hurdle is that forms of abuse or criminal conduct committed in the care setting are so abhorrent that employers or co-workers of those who are accused seldom wish to believe the allegations, especially when they involve sexual grooming or child abuse.

This may subconsciously cause employers or investigators to develop a bias against the complainant and, in the case of investigators, may mean that the inquiry is not conducted as thoroughly as possible. This in turn may mean that there is insufficient evidence to provide to a court in order to secure a conviction.

A lack of physical evidence

Perhaps most crucially, many types of criminal conduct in the disability and care context are difficult to secure convictions for because there is often very little physical evidence which can be presented before a court. It is incredibly difficult to obtain proof of somebody grooming a child, elderly or disabled person for intended sexual or other abuse. Similarly, even injuries such as might be sustained through physical abuse can often be apparently legitimately explained in the care context because of the vulnerable nature of the victims – children often hurt themselves in play or by being careless, while the elderly can be infirm and become easily injured in the ordinary course of events.

Safeguarding investigation services

The most powerful weapon against criminal conduct in care settings is to ensure that any investigation is undertaken objectively, skilfully and with consideration for what requirements the courts may need to secure a conviction.
At Wise, we are experienced in the complexities of conducting investigations into alleged criminal conduct, particularly in child protection settings. Contact us for more information.  



Unpacking the Concept of Reasonableness

- Wednesday, February 08, 2017


Across all Australian workplaces the phenomenon of bullying is without doubt a front-and-centre topic. And as a result, overt instances of bullying in the workplace now tend to be more readily identified than ever before. 

One challenging idea for all concerned however is this; is it possible that management action that is entirely reasonable could be misconstrued by a worker as an act of bullying? In both workers’ compensation matters and industrial relations more broadly, the linked concepts of ‘reasonable management action’ carried out in a ‘reasonable manner’ have certainly been difficult to pin down. 

We take this opportunity to explore the complex concept of reasonableness as it related specifically to management action and workplace bullying. 

Workplace bullying - the basics

When proposals arose to include bullying within Fair Work’s mandate, employers were understandably uncertain. ‘Bullying’ has a very broad and subjective interpretation among the general public; surely one person’s harmless banter could be another person’s bullying?

Yet when changes to the Fair Work Act were made and the commission explained the new initiative to stakeholders, it was clear that the definition under 789FD(1)contained certain helpful boundaries. Significantly, the unreasonable behaviour needed to be repeated and not just a one-off incident. Further, the activity needed to cause a demonstrable risk to workplace health and safety. The description of particular unacceptable behaviours – such as belittling, humiliating, spreading rumours and having unrealistic expectations – also went some way to assisting employers in the creation of sound anti-bullying mechanisms.

Reasonable management action…

Yet what about business-as-usual management? – for example when a worker needs constant reminders and oversight by management in order to fulfil their role? Could this type of standard management action actually be construed as ‘bullying’? 

The commission foresaw this potential for definitional constraints to disrupt the operational needs of many businesses. Consequently, garden-variety management action such as performance management, work monitoring, instruction, direction and disciplinary action are generally outside of the definition of bullying. These actions are simply the core of most management roles. However, the analysis doesn’t end there.

Carried out in a reasonable manner

A full understanding of the interplay between alleged bullying and reasonable management action requires that employers be aware of the crucial third element of the equation – was the reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner? This might seem like splitting definitional hairs, but it is this particular nuance that sometimes gets overlooked. Let’s take an example:

The employer receives notification of a bullying claim from the FWC, made against a manager by a worker. The action in question appears to be quite reasonable management action – let’s say a routine performance management process has been commenced. HR assisted with documentation and there was clear objective evidence of the worker’s underperformance. This was clearly – in and of itself – reasonable management action on the part of the manager.

However, what can lead to difficulties for any employer is when the management action is not carried out in a reasonable manner. If the manner is found to be oppressive, aggressive, belittling and/or with completely unrelenting expectations regarding outputs – then there is a high likelihood that a bullying claim can be substantiated. In other words, all the good work involved in reasonable management action can come undone if it is administered in a bullying manner.

Train for reasonable management action

Most employers have become adept at the creation of healthy and safe workplaces. Layout and resource issues are quickly dealt with and the corporate culture is usually a point of workplace pride. 

It pays however to ensure that the less-obvious hazards are still kept in focus. While employees might generally be monitored to prevent bullying issues, it is the manner in which managers carry on their tasks that also has ramifications for employers. 

Our consultants have over 10 years of experience in determining what is and what is not ‘reasonable management action’ so if you have a matter where you need clarification or an investigation, talk to one of our consultants for advice on 1300 580 685. 

If you think your managers could benefit from toolbox training on successful performance management, managing bullying complaints or ‘bullying, harassment and discrimination’ awareness, talk to one of our training consultants about our HR Pop-Up Professional Development initiatives and toolbox training.


How Bullying Operates in the Corrupt Workplace

- Wednesday, October 05, 2016


By Andrew Hedges

Wanting to belong
How does bullying operate in the corrupt workplace? If there is anything a new employee in a workplace does not want to feel is it’s being an outsider. Just as a new student in an established class at school wants to fit in and be a part of the peer group as quickly as possible, the same applies to when we join the workforce as adults. If the worker is seen as a troublemaker (let alone a whistle blower) and not accepting of the existing culture, particularly in relation to corruption, bullying can be introduced as a way to try to keep them in line.

When an employee speaks out against corruption or even says they will expose what is going on, bullying can make that person’s life extremely difficult. They may begin to not enjoy their job, they could also start to feel extremely uncomfortable, depressed or anxious, and even if they complain about the bullying to management it may be that very little change occurs.  This could lead to feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Ultimately, the lack of support could mean they decide to resign or ask for a transfer. If a long-standing culture of corruption exists, once the whistle blower has gone, it could well mean a return to the status quo.

Hopes for change
Can investigations into bullying work? It is a complex area. While formal processes do exist to comply with existing laws involved for a formal investigation to take place, it can be difficult to proceed. How do you resolve the issue of the person making a bullying complaint having to potentially face the bully? There are ways of getting around it, such as involving an independent mediator to talk to both parties separately, giving both sides the chance to say what has been going on for them, though there is also the danger of “he says”, “she says”. More workers would need to backup each person’s version of events.

A practical way of breaking a bullying culture is to formulate a code of conduct which clearly states what is and is not acceptable in the workplace. If this code of conduct is established, getting both individuals to adhere to it may be a part of that more informal process. 

Halting real progress or change
So what happens if an individual in the workplace decides to address it? Although systems may exist to deal with such an issue, there are ways to block any real progress being made into fully dealing with the situation particularly if there is a desire to blank out any questions or probing.

The whistle blower may be transferred to another section or department, their job title, role or work given to them may suddenly change, they may be made redundant, their shifts changed or working hours diminished. To their colleagues, it may just seem like a case of bad luck or that the person is not performing or is somehow unpopular. Their co-workers may wonder what is going on but are too hesitant to discuss it in case they are perceived in the same light or feel worried they will be put in the spotlight and will suffer the consequences. Secrecy, sticking to the rules and silence may prevail.

When corruption has been raised and management become aware of it, the dysfunctional group members who support and assist each other in the unacceptable practices can join forces to present a united front and collude to present themselves as “honest Joes” with a false story, covering their tracks or making sure they all say the same thing.  This kind of conduct makes it very hard for management or workplace investigators to uncover what is really going on.

Employees can be scared of risking speaking up. This could be because they are concerned that their suggestions for change or a new way of doing things will be unfavourably viewed by their immediate boss or management.  The “agitator” may be viewed as not being helpful and their comments seen as disloyal or unfavourable to the boss or manager. The consequences of saying something could result in demotion or poor career prospects.  Various studies have found that employees being forced to keep their mouth shut can result in anxiety, depression, stress and poor performance and a lack of desire or motivation to be at work. Bullying in the corrupt workplace is hardly an optimal situation.

Download this FREE Whitepaper to know the signals to look for regarding corruption in the workplace and bullying.

Corruption and misconduct are often hard to detect without the assistance of employees. A well supported confidential hotline is an essential component of your risk management strategy. Research how our hotline service can assist. whistleblowerhotline.com.au

Handle with Care: Making Allegations of Serious Misconduct

- Tuesday, August 16, 2016


We understand that when business owners have a strong hunch regarding an employee’s dubious behaviour, their instinct can be to act in a fast and decisive manner. Often angered and sometimes caught off guard by what appears to be serious misconduct, employers can be tempted to deal with a worker’s blatant misconduct at once – including via summary dismissal.

However in the recent matter of Platypus Shoes, Commissioner Iain Cambridge of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) demonstrated that a lack of fairness during an investigation into allegations of serious misconduct can irreparably affect the quality and acceptability of the outcome.
The commissioner found that the employer in this matter had misrepresented the nature of the employee’s behaviour, and had tainted possible future actions due to the manner of the investigation.

facts of the case

The applicant, Mr Jimenez, worked for the respondent as a shoe store manager. In October 2015, the applicant was summarily dismissed from his role with Platypus Shoes, on the basis of allegations that he had committed theft and fraud. Colleagues reported that Mr Jimenez had engaged in inappropriate behaviour such as wearing shoes that were on layby, not accounting for some $200 until after a week had passed (later described by the FWC as a retail ‘mortal sin’), taking four pairs of shoes from the shop, and providing a friend with the 20% family discount.

In response, the employer invited the applicant to a meeting on September 21, 2015, on the basis of wanting to discuss positive and favourable issues. Mr Jimenez attended the meeting alone and was promptly met with the allegations of theft and fraud. He was given the information in writing and told to respond within one day. After the applicant received legal advice, this period was extended. A further meeting was then called for October 9, 2015. After some discussion, Mr Jimenez was summarily dismissed from his employment in writing during a break in proceedings.

the right to be heard

On hearing from the parties, the commissioner pointed to certain fatal deficiencies in the manner in which the employer had acted against the applicant. Primarily, the employer appeared to have formed a clear opinion as to the nature and extent of Mr Jimenez’s alleged serious misconduct well before any opportunity was provided for the worker to properly receive and respond to the allegations.
And in calling the worker to the September 21 meeting alone and on the pretext of a positive discussion: “…[the employer] took steps to deliberately deceive him about the purpose of the meeting”.

It was noted by the commissioner that where allegations are particularly serious, decision-makers must ensure that the investigative process and resultant findings are of sufficient quality to meet the exacting standard set out in Briginshaw v Briginshaw (1938) 60 CLR 336.

evidence of a closed mind

The letter that the employer handed to the worker during a recess in the meeting of October 9 also demonstrated a high degree of pre-determination, for example with certain names being evidently inserted some time earlier.

Commissioner Cambridge noted that decision-makers must operate: “…with an open mind such that the opportunity represented some practical and realistic potential to persuade the decision-maker to a particular view.”

Of interest was the finding of the FWC that the employer might well have been able to establish a case of serious misconduct in relation to the seemingly misappropriated monies. Such behaviour indeed appeared to constitute a ‘mortal sin’ in the world of retail cash-handling. However, the unfortunate manner in which the allegations were pursued by the employer effectively tainted the evidence and precluded an otherwise reasonable course of action.
Before finding in favour of the worker and provided a small quantum of compensation, the commissioner made the sobering observation that:
“The procedural errors made by the employer have rendered what would have otherwise been an entirely fair dismissal with notice, to be an unreasonable and unjust summary dismissal.”

getting it right - every step of the way

It can be a fine line indeed between decisive action in the workplace against misconduct allegations and ensuring that the procedure is fair. Our years in working with businesses to ensure the best investigation possible have shown us many of the challenges that employers face in situations like Platypus Shoes. To avoid getting to mediation or court with a ‘tainted’ investigation, it is important that businesses understand the contours and potential pitfalls of a serious misconduct investigation.

Conducting proper workplace investigations would have made the outcome of this case a different story. If you handle allegations of serious misconduct or other workplace elements that require a proper investigation process then this course may be of interest to you. You will find more information regarding Conducting Workplace Investigations here.