Informal mediation is not enough when addressing bullying allegations
A recent Fair Work Commission hearing vindicated two real estate employees who claimed they were threatened with violence, abused, belittled and humiliated at work.
The employees had taken their grievances to their employer who held an informal investigation and mediation session. Mediation is often an appropriate course of action when the dispute does not involve serious misconduct or breach of company policy, but is a result of misunderstanding, a personality clash or difference of opinion – seemingly minor disputes but which can create long-term problems within companies. Identifying such situations early, and engaging an independent third-party mediator when required, may not only lead to resolution of grievances before time-consuming and costly formal proceedings commence, but also ensures working relationships are not irreparably damaged. Ultimately, after mediation in this case, it was agreed that given the seriousness of the allegations, formal intervention was the best course of action.
In the ruling, the Fair Work Commission found the manager had not only yelled and sworn at the employees, but had also physically intimidated them by “slamming” objects onto their desks.
The Commission heard that although the manager had since resigned from the company, he had taken up an equivalent position with a related company. Given this, the Commissioner said there was a risk of potential interaction between the parties. Having been on extended leave, the two employees, who also lodged claims for medical and associated costs, had felt too intimidated by their manager to return to work.
The Commissioner blamed an “unprofessional” workplace culture for creating a risk to the health and safety of a number of workers. In a ruling that would be in place for 24 months, the Commissioner said that neither the manager nor the employees should communicate with one another once they returned to work.
"Although [the manager] is now employed by the related business and works from a different work location, there is some common ownership of the businesses.
"Without measures being implemented to set and enforce appropriate standards of behaviour in the workplace, there was a risk of further relevant unreasonable conduct," the Commissioner said.
The employer was encouraged to address the company’s cultural issues.
“Having positive measures in place in relation to specific cases as well as broader preventative measures can be a sort of insurance against being dragged into the Fair Work Commission,” he said.
iHR Australia has experienced, sensitive mediators across the country whose professional and confidential sessions strive to enhance and assist organisations to stabilise ongoing internal and external working relationships and achieve better outcomes for parties involved. Mediation is a confidential process limited to immediate parties, limiting disruption within the rest of the workgroup or team. iHR offers a Workplace Mediation Skills public training and can also customise the program for on-site delivery.