Bullying: I've Been Talking to HR but Nothing's Happening

- Wednesday, May 24, 2017

If you have been the victim of bullying, the HR department in your organisation is generally the first port of call for raising your concerns. 

It can be mentally or emotionally challenging to make a complaint to HR. You may feel exposed or vulnerable because you are concerned that your complaint may not be believed, or that the person about whom you have made a complaint has been told that you have "dobbed" on them.

Depending on the nature of your complaint, or the relationship of the HR personnel with the person or people about whom the complaint has been made, you may have concerns that a workplace investigation will not be conducted thoroughly or your grievance not taken seriously. In any event, your working life can become very uncertain after you have made a complaint to HR. 

Taking a company issue to the HR team can also be a lengthy process, and it may feel like nothing is happening as time ticks by. But it's important to remember that much of the HR investigation will be taking place without you being directly aware of it. 

Here is a brief look at how the process works.

THE FIRST STEP

After you have aired your grievance, it's important to try and remain focused and perform your job to the best of your ability. If you feel you are unable to do so, it may be best to take a few days off work on sick leave until you feel stronger, and better able to approach your tasks or face your co-workers.    

THE COMPLAINT PROCESS 

There are certain steps which a diligent HR team must follow once a complaint has been brought to their attention. Initially, the complaint must be assessed. 

Next, the HR department will meet with relevant senior staff, who must make a decision as to what the appropriate follow-up actions will be.

Depending on the severity of the alleged behaviour, this may involve HR having a quiet word to the other person or the initiation of formal disciplinary proceedings. The latter is more likely to be the case if the person being complained about is already being performance-managed in relation to prior issues. 

Be aware that it may well take HR a week or even longer to finalise the preliminary investigation process, and make and communicate a decision on the best way forward. 

Privacy obligations to the other employees involved may also mean that you are not entitled to know the full details of what further action will be taken.

WHAT CAN HR TELL YOU?

At a minimum, HR is required to advise you of: 

  • The fact that it has received your complaint, is taking it seriously and is conducting appropriate levels of investigation. 
  • What Employee Assistance Programs are available. 
  • Who the liaison person for these programs is (if your organisation has one) and how to contact them. 

WHAT IF THERE IS A FORMAL WORKPLACE INVESTIGATION? 

For serious complaints, your company may engage the services of a third party workplace investigator. 

If this occurs, then you are entitled to: 

  • Be one of the first people interviewed if a detailed investigation is commenced. 
  • Receive a copy of your interview transcript or detailed statement, which you should sign if you agree that it is an accurate record of what you told HR

If your complaint is sufficiently serious, then the respondent facing your allegations will be advised of the exact complaints against them. Although they are also likely to be interviewed, you are not entitled to a copy of their transcript or statement. If you are concerned about any bias, however, be aware that their interview will be recorded.

Once these steps have been finalised, the investigator will draft a report for the review and consideration of the HR department. That report (hopefully completed within a timeframe of less than three weeks) will then be provided to the relevant decision-makers within your organisation for a final determination. 

You will generally be advised that the investigation has been completed, what the findings are, and of any further action steps as they concern you. But in most cases, you will not be specifically advised of any punishment to be meted out to the respondent. 

BE PREPARED FOR WORKPLACE CHANGES

If your complaint is serious, you may be asked to move or transfer offices or departments. This is not a punishment, but is designed to ensure that your wellbeing is protected, generally by reducing the likelihood of any contact occurring between you and the respondent. 

Try not to respond by being offended or otherwise feeling indignant. All businesses, regardless of their size, have legal obligations to all employees. Your employer cannot simply fire workers who have issues with other employees, and other considerations may mean that the respondent cannot be moved. Bear in mind that your organisation is simply trying to find the best outcome for all concerned. 

If you are nervous about making a complaint or otherwise wish to obtain guidance on how whistleblowers should be dealt with, contact WISE Workplace today for detailed assistance with all aspects of the workplace investigation process.  

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.

So You've Been Accused of Bullying - What Now?

Vince Scopelliti - Wednesday, May 03, 2017

The issue of workplace bullying is much more openly discussed these days, and most employees are aware that they can make a formal complaint to their employers and have the matter investigated – with appropriate resolution to follow.

But what happens if you are not the victim, but instead have been accused of being the bully?

HOW TO DEAL WITH AN OVERWHELMING EXPERIENCE

Being accused of bullying is never pleasant. It can create a number of confusing feelings, including concerns about your job security, a sense of lost control over your workplace and working experience, and frustration or even anger towards your accuser.

This can particularly be the case if you dispute that the alleged behaviour occurred or took place as claimed, and feel that you have been wrongly accused.

In some circumstances, those accused of workplace bullying may even develop feelings of depression or anxiety.

But there are strategies which you can employ to stay focused and keep your emotions under control while the investigation process is underway.

These include:

  • Remembering that the accusation is only an allegation and does not mean that anything has or will be proven against you.

  • Understanding that there is an investigation process which needs to be followed to ensure fairness is afforded to both parties. Your organisation will need to investigate the allegations and talk to staff before they get your side of the story.

  • Avoiding interfering in the investigation, as this will risk a finding of bias and will only extend the process.

YOUR RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

As the alleged perpetrator of the workplace bullying, you are entitled to be advised of what the allegations made against you are, although you cannot be provided with a copy of the initial letter of complaint.

This is to ensure that the complainant maintains some privacy and avoids potential further harassment. Once you have been advised of the complaint and the details of the allegation, it is a good idea to make a written record of your version of events.

You have the right to participate in an interview and, if you take up this right, it is important to calmly address the facts and provide a rational, not emotional, response to the allegations.

You are also entitled to request that you have a support person to sit in on interviews and provide you with moral support throughout the investigation process.

The key thing to remember is that you have the right to an unbiased investigation. If you genuinely believe that the investigator or somebody with the power to make the final determination is prejudiced against you or otherwise has a conflict of interest, you should set out your concerns, preferably in writing, and request that another person becomes involved in the process.

If you continue to feel that the process is tainted by bias, you can contact the Fair Work Commission's Help Line or obtain independent legal or consulting advice to ensure that your rights are protected.

By the same token, you should avoid discussing the complaint at all with co-workers or decision-makers, and certainly should not engage in discussions with the complainant under any circumstances. Any attempt to do so may be perceived as an attempt to influence witnesses or otherwise interfere with the investigation.

REMEMBER THAT THE INVESTIGATION CAN TAKE TIME

It's important to be aware that the workplace investigation process can be lengthy, and more serious allegations of bullying might take six or more weeks to investigate. Factors such as the victim (or you) going on stress leave or annual leave can also affect the timeframe of the investigation.

Although it is certainly justifiable to feel stressed, and you should seek support if you feel unwell, going on medical leave in response to the complaint will only prolong the investigation. Your health is likely to be better served in the long-term by assisting in the process, enabling a quicker resolution.

Being accused of workplace bullying and the subsequent investigation process can be an upsetting experience. If your organisations needs assistance in how to respond to bullying allegations to ensure procedural fairness for all parties, we can provide you with advice on the investigation process. Feel free to contact us here.

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.

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.

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

Common Characteristics of Mental Illness in the Workplace

- Wednesday, July 27, 2016

We’re aware that for all business owners, the majority of days – and plenty of nights as well –  will be spent juggling multiple balls connected to customers, products, services, payroll, health and safety, suppliers, marketing… the list goes on! And even with the best systems in place, we have all experienced what can happen when one or more of those balls hits the shop floor.

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of business is in fact the human element. In particular with employees coming in all shapes, sizes and personalities it is inevitable that moods and quirks such as annoyance, closing ranks, rumour-mongering, impatience, loud jokiness and virtual invisibility will be on display at various times amid your staff. But what if these ‘quirks’ represent symptoms of mental illness in particular staff, such as depression, anxiety or mood disorders? And further - how do we gauge if the presence of mental illness has any connection to a workplace bullying situation?

We provide some guidance below on how to sensitively identify some basic characteristics of mental illness in the workplace. Once you have some certainty around this development, you might also uncover meaningful connections between the illness suffered and pockets of workplace bullying.

Match Symptoms with Time

Most workplaces thrive on some version of cyclical ‘peaks and troughs’, with outputs tied to the passage of regular events. Take many retailers, conference venues, primary producers and accountancy firms as examples. For them Christmas, show-time, harvest and tax requirements can all mark moments when staff develop various excited, irritable, demanding and adrenalin-fuelled bursts of energy - plus the inevitable depressive lag in the aftermath! And in the majority of cases there is no cause for concern with the development of these very human characteristics at work.

But the time to be aware of something ‘more’ occurring for a staff member is when their mood or behaviour doesn’t match with any time-related situation that you are aware of. In a seeming lull for the business, mental illness in an employee might manifest in social withdrawal, absenteeism/ presenteeism, uncharacteristic productivity changes, personality shifts, crying or deep irritation with others. Most medical diagnoses require a period of some weeks with symptoms before a mental illness such as anxiety, depression or a mood disorder can be found. We all have bad days. But by matching time with symptom development over 1-3 weeks business owners can start to gauge if mental illness might be involved.

Monitor Sectional Changes

Another key way to detect characteristics of mental illness in the workplace is to regularly undertake a psychological ‘temperature’ test in all divisions in the company. By this we mean taking the time to gauge the general cooperation, enjoyment, productivity, communication and team cohesion that exists in each section and/or team. This crucial element of workplace health can be investigated by trained workplace professionals or – if you have the time and skills – by personally walking the floor on an ongoing basis. Keep in mind however that those experiencing or causing mental illness symptoms way be unlikely to share personal information with the boss!

Interestingly, this business-wide mental health monitoring can often reveal potential bullying cases. The cliché can exist of the depressed low-level worker crying because s/he is ‘depressed’ about work. But increasingly, unwell managers who are left unchecked and unassisted in their own mental distress can cause bullying-related damage to those around them – as well as complex injury claims. Manifestations of chronic anxiety as well as hyper/hypomania on the spectrum of bipolarity can include extraordinary energy, feelings of superiority, fast and confident speech, delusions of grandeur and savage irritability when annoyed, to name just some of the characteristics of these harsh and unforgiving mental conditions. The quietly weeping worker might indeed be suffering depression; yet so might the demanding, manic, laughing, busy, insufferable manager with the timid and miserable staff beneath her.

Making wellness your business

And we know that at the end of the day, injury caused in the work context isn’t a matter of blaming the worker who manifested mental illness. Bullying coming off the back of a mental illness that has gone unnoticed will still be a problem for business owners themselves to rectify. Whether via professional investigation or internal monitoring, take the time to carefully deduce if a worker is simply having an ‘off day’ – or if something more complex is involved. At Wise Workplace we can help you investigate possible workplace bullying, plus provide you with positive strategies for monitoring the overall mental health of your workplace.

Monty Pythonesque Defence of Case Costs $87,000

- Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Monty Python-esque Defence of Case Costs $87,000

An “absurd” defence of an unfair dismissal case, which a Fair Work Commissioner likened to a Monty Python sketch, has ended up being very costly for one employer, and provides an important lesson for any organisation involved in legal action. 

The recent decision on costs in Somasundaram v Department of Education & Training,North-Eastern Victoria Region, handed down at the end of June, highlights the need for organisations to appreciate that in some circumstances they will not succeed in litigation. Whether in the role of applicant or respondent, it is an essential element of participating in legal proceedings to understand the difference between an appropriately maintained claim/defence or one which is without merit. 

It is then essential for an organisation to take steps and make decisions based on appropriate legal advice, a coherent strategy and an honest assessment of the likelihood of success – and never on the desire to be "right" or because of "the principle.”

Somasundaram demonstrates just how horribly wrong it can go when a party remains entrenched in its position despite its better judgment – to the tune of almost $90,000. 
The background of the case
Ms Somasundaram was a teacher at Sherbrooke Community School. She had previously made bullying complaints. In 2015, Ms Somasundaram's employment at the school was terminated for "disgraceful, improper or unbecoming" conduct. Her apparent crimes? Airing a list of grievances at a school meeting, emailing complaints and criticisms of colleagues and the school's leadership to the teaching distribution list, and then ignoring an instruction to cease. Ms Somasundaram accordingly filed an application for Orders to Produce against the Victorian Department of Education & Training (DET). 

After the hearing had already begun, the DET conceded that the dismissal could be considered harsh and accepted that reinstatement was appropriate. The DET further withdrew the assistant principal's evidence and other witness statements as it concluded that there was no need for hearings to continue. 

However, despite these concessions, the DET attempted to maintain an argument that the teacher should not be reinstated because there had been an "irretrievable breakdown of trust and confidence" between the school and the teacher. The DET then sought to introduce new evidence and attempted to file new submissions as to what constituted harshness. 

In July 2015, Commissioner Ryan determined that the DET was unreasonable in attempting to force the teacher to reply to its arguments and respond to its defence in circumstances where it had already conceded that the dismissal could be considered harsh. 

Indeed, Commissioner Ryan considered it inappropriate that the DET had responded to the remedy application at all, given its concessions and acknowledgement that doing so was "without reasonable cause", and concluded that the DET's attempts to introduce new witnesses and evidence at a late stage in the proceedings was inappropriate. He therefore ruled that Ms Somasundaram's dismissal was "harsh, unjust and unreasonable." 

In October 2015, the DET was ordered by FWC Deputy President Anne Gooley to reinstate the employment of Ms Somasundaram. In addition, Ms Somasundaram was awarded full back-pay of her salary to the date of her dismissal in February 2015.
So what did the DET do so wrong?
According to Commissioner Ryan's first decision on costs in March 2016, the DET's arguments that Ms Somasundaram should not have her job back and attempts to maintain that the DET had a valid reason for her dismissal were akin to the insistence of the shopkeeper in the much-loved Monty Python "Dead Parrot" sketch that the titular bird was not in fact deceased but was simply "resting", despite the bleedingly obvious evidence to the contrary. 

The DET may have been able to maintain this argument – if it had not already conceded that its decision for terminating the employment was harsh, and withdrawn evidence. 

Commissioner Ryan also made reference to the Black Knight sketch, saying “The humour in both of those Monty Python sketches arises from the sheer absurdity of the situation portrayed. The same sense of absurdity is found in the actions of the respondent.”
Lessons for all employers
The FWC ordered that the DET pay $87,000 towards the legal costs of Ms Somasundaram. If the DET had accepted early on that it had harshly dismissed the employee and submitted to the FWC for sentencing, it could have saved almost $90,000. The lesson here? Decisions are ultimately decided on fairness, and organisations must reflect at every stage of a case on the reasonableness of their actions.        

Corrupting Legitimate Processes: What's Really Going On?

Jill McMahon - Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Corrupting Legitimate Processes

Corruption is a huge problem for Australian organisations because it exists in so many places and in so many forms that the average manager may not even consider it an issue. 

Left unchecked, even minor corrupt behaviour can spiral out of control. 

Using legitimate processes is one way that corruption can be concealed, making it easy to justify and difficult to detect.  

Defining corruption and legitimate processes

Workplace corruption can be broadly defined as behaviour that violates the trust that organisations place in their workers. It can range from serious fraud and abuses of power to minor issues such as fraudulently claiming sick leave. 

Legitimate processes are processes, policies and procedures that a workplace uses to function. They can sometimes be manipulated for corrupt purposes. 

For example, an employee who makes a complaint about a manager may be transferred to another work station, have their overtime hours reduced, or be placed on continuous night shift. The decision-maker justifies the change by saying that there was an operational need for the change, but the timing indicates that it was made because the employee complained.

Detection is difficult
Because the corrupt activity is concealed by legitimate processes, it can be very difficult to prove. It is only by uncovering the background to the decision that corruption may be established.

For example, if our employee was put on permanent night shift just a week after making the complaint against the manager, surrounding relevant factors may be: 
  • There was no warning that the decision was about to be made. 
  • No one discussed the matter with the employee. 
  •  The manager and the shift manager are known to be good friends. 
  • There are emails between the managers about changing the employee’s shift because of the complaint. 
All of these factors are important to consider as they establish context for the decision being made.

Other legitimate processes

Corrupt legitimate processes can also exist in other forms. For example, there might be a strict requirement for payment of invoices to be signed off by two people before being approved. If two employees work together to create and approve false invoices and then pay the money into their bank accounts, this is corruption of a legitimate process. 

If a group in a workplace regularly engages in corruption, for example using a company credit card to buy items for personal use, there may be pressure on other workers to join in or collude. If they refuse, the group may organise for the workers to be transferred.
What is the impact?
Incidents of workplace corruption in Australia are increasing. The Transparency International Corruption Perception Index recently noted that in the past four years, Australia has dropped from 8th to 13th position. Public sector corruption is a key contributor, the ABC reports, but there are also widespread problems in the private sector, notably the banking industry. There have been recent calls for a Royal Commission into the industry to investigate its practices. 

The impact of corruption is huge. In 2012, KPMG’s survey of fraud, bribery and corruption estimated that Australian and New Zealand organisations lost $373 million to corruption. Employees were thought to be responsible for 75% of corrupt activities.
What can be done?
It is important to understand that corruption is usually not spontaneous. There is often a perfect storm of events and situations that causes employees to engage in corrupt activities. 

Understanding what constitutes corruption and taking preventative measures to avoid corruption can help organisations to minimise its effects.   

Corruption is an important issue for all organisations and the better it is understood, the greater the chance of minimising the harm that it can cause. Using legitimate processes is a great cover for corrupt employees. Detection is difficult and there are usually plausible explanations for their actions. If you suspect corruption in your organisation, WISE Workplace can assist with independent investigations and expert advice.