Workplace Culture Ultimately Underpins Reducing the Risk of Litigation

Team culture

Preventing and managing inappropriate workplace behaviour isn’t as simple as writing a policy and having an open door towards employee complaints. A proactive approach by managers and leaders is required in setting and reinforcing a culture highlighted by respectful behaviour and approachable management. Failure to do so can impact an organisation’s capacity to comply with legislation and policy, to protect its employer brand and achieve optimum performance and productivity.



Stephen Bell, Managing Director of iHR Australia believes that “‘compliance driven’ organisations often neglect the most important factor in minimising risk of litigation related to discrimination, bullying and harassment” says Mr Bell. “You can be ticking all the boxes, signing all the policies and participating in all the right trainings but if there is not a culture where people tolerate differences and feel comfortable discussing issues with management, it still remains high risk”.

The case of a financial institution in which executives are alleged to have drugged a colleague and circulated photos of the unconscious victim is an example of how a supposed powerful workplace culture that accepted such behaviour, as reported by Fairfax media, results in risks to brand. Such media reports have not only the potential to influence the organisations reputation as an employer and as a financial player in the wider community, but also their positioning in regulatory bodies. If a court obtains the view that a culture exists that avoids dealing with issues or has no standards around relationships and behaviour, then an organisation may have a lot more difficulty defending allegations of discrimination, harassment and bullying.




In the case of the financial institution, it is alleged that whilst the specific incidents were brought to the attention of the HR department, no disciplinary action was taken against the perpetrators. iHR Australia’s Director Workplace Relations John Boardman said “without commenting on the merit or otherwise of this particular case as it is still to be tested before the courts, it highlights that organisations have not only a duty to their employees to deal with complaints and/or information they are provided, but they need to actively look for potential hazards”. Mr Boardman continued “organisations need to be courageous in challenging risky behaviour from Senior Managers and Executives who are considered high performers they think they cannot afford to lose”.





As part of a proactive approach aimed at creating a low risk culture, leaders and managers must be approachable, role model appropriate behaviour and respond to observed inappropriate situations. It is important for leaders and managers to be skilled at having discussions on inappropriate behaviour. One technique that Mr Bell espouses is the SIA approach: 


Mr Bell continued “there is a really important discussion for organisations to have with their leaders. That pertains to ‘you are a leader, you set the cultural agenda and you need to act when the workplace culture is being put at risk. If you are not prepared to do this you are not leading in the interest of the organisation’”.

Find out more about iHR Australia’s highly regarded and unique program Custodians of Culture for Managers and Leadersfocusing on their responsibility as the custodians of the organisations workplace culture how to prevent and effectively manage bullying, harassment and discrimination issues.