You can have the best practices in policy and complaints handling processes. You can have a policy statement providing a commitment to a discrimination, harassment and bullying free workplace. But you can’t mitigate the risk of costly incidents of inappropriate behaviour if managers have an insufficient understanding of how to implement the key elements of their risk mitigation role. These being:
- Acting as a role model;
- Taking appropriate action when they become aware of inappropriate behaviour;
- Handling complaints in accordance with the organisational processes.
In a startling result, 93% of responses to a recent iHR Australia poll indicated that managers may not be confident or prepared to have a direct conversation with employees who behave inappropriately. While the iHR Australia poll is only anecdotal, the result was both a surprise and concern to Managing Director Stephen Bell. ‘It reinforces to me that organisations still need to work on the professional development of their managers. We are a very policy and process centric business community. There is a common emphasis on dealing with compliance and risk mitigation at a very surface level; policies, processes and low quality tick the box, eLearning Interventions. The underlying issue is actually leadership and culture’ explains Bell.
According to Mr Bell poor culture and unskilled leaders are just as much of a risk as a lack of policies and processes. In the case Kate Mathews v Winslow Constructors (Vic) Pty Ltd , it is alleged that Ms Matthews complained to her supervisor about being subjected to bullying and sexual harassment only to be laughed at. Says Bell, ‘This lack of proper leadership is negligence of a duty of care. A good training program clearly demonstrates how a manager should deal with addressing inappropriate behaviour when it is observed and how to handle complaints of discrimination, harassment or bullying. Note that I say “demonstrates”, not ‘tells’. A good training program explains that workplace culture is defined by the pattern of accepted behaviours, set by management and is a key factor in managing risk.’
The actions or lack of action by ‘the manager’ is frequently a focus of court attention. According to iHR Australia’s Director of Workplace Relations John Boardman, an essential element of any line manager’s role is to manage employees, deal with workplace tension and provide a safe work environment. ‘If a line manager does not have the capability to undertake their job the organisation can be held vicariously liable for appointing a person that is not competent to fulfil the inherent requirements of the job. You would not appoint a pilot to fly a plane if the candidate did not have a pilot’s licence.’
It is the responsibility of the organisation to ensure that their managers are adept at fulfilling their role. ‘It should be part of every managers journey to understand the expectation. The organisation is ultimately liable if it fails to explain it adequately’ affirms Mr Bell. ‘The Kate Matthews matter stands as a stark reminder that an inadequately trained manager, can cost a business millions of dollars in damages, awarded to victims of workplace discrimination, harassment and bullying.’