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The True Cost of Poor Workplace Complaint Handling

iHR Australia as a leading workplace investigations provider, continues to observe the impact of a lack of line manager understanding and skill in applying complaint handling processes. This common error includes trivialising, misinterpreting or even ignoring complaints.

 A 2015 ruling by the Supreme Court of Victoria to award a complainant $1.36 million in damages highlights the importance of training line managers in such procedures.

In the case before the Supreme Court, a female labourer was subjected to sexual harassment and bullying over a two-year period. During this time, the employee had been abused verbally, inappropriately touched, shown pornographic materials and had a male colleague threaten to follow her home.

At one stage the employee was moved to another department for several months before being returned to the same area where the previous behaviours had occurred.

When the woman did complain her supervisor responded by laughing. On several occasions when the employee complained to a more senior manager she was told “to leave it with me.”

“Cases such as this reinforce the importance of providing training to both managers and general staff, to ensure that they understand what discrimination, bullying and harassment is – and the potential repercussions of such behaviour,” says Mr Stephen Bell, Managing Director of iHR Australia.

When faced with a complaint, the first thing a manager should do is to think critically about their role and the appropriate next steps, he added.

“We believe that there are three roles of a manager,” says Bell. “First and foremost, they need to ensure the health and well-being of the parties involved and take all reasonable steps to mitigate any risk. Second, they need to ensure that at all times they are a role model, which means they act in accordance with the values and policies of the organisation.”

A manager’s third role when it comes to managing workplace issues, is to ensure that they handle any complaints in accordance with relevant company procedures and policies.

The important point here is that managers need to guide the individual into the organisations complaints handling options. This more than often means getting HR or more senior management involved rather than trying to unravel the complexities of an issue on their own.

“By doing all of this, the line manager is ensuring they are taking the first steps towards procedural fairness”.

iHR Australia’s Director of Workplace Relations, Mr John Boardman says, “the Fair Work Commission’s Bench Book on Bullying indicates that a failure to follow company policies and procedures is one test that the Commission uses to determine if ‘Management Action’ has been taken in an unreasonable manner”. Boardman explains, “While not necessarily needing to be perfect, performance management, including disciplinary action, that is taken without due regard to natural justice and procedural fairness will rarely survive review by a tribunal or relevant court.” A number of forms of redress are available to employees who have been unreasonably treated ranging from compensation, damages. Fines and penalties against the employer and or individual managers might also result.

At iHR Australia, our anti-discrimination, bullying and harassment training for managers focuses on their role and responsibility as custodians of the organisation's workplace culture as a means of preventing and effectively managing such issues in the workplace. Additionally it highlights the potential impact both financially and culturally that unmanaged issues can have on employer brand, staff morale and retention. Learn more here.

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