As we have covered previously new Anti Bullying laws commenced on 12 January 2014 and apply to all businesses.  Today’s HR Highlight will focus on how to handle a bullying claim.

And today we will examine when to respond and look at some tips and traps when investigating a bullying claim.

When to respond?

In short,  when a claim is made or when a situation is brought to your attention. Then you know you must act.

ACAPMA is also often asked if the business is required to act on rumours of bullying if the parties do not come forward on their own. The short answer is yes.

While the employees involved may have no issue with behaviour and may both agree it is “all in good fun”, it is important for the business to handle even rumours of bullying appropriately.

This is to ensure the business is compliant in the way it is treating the hypothetical two employees, but also as there may be a third employee who is watching the exchange and feels when management does not act, that they are condoning bullying and thus that third employee will not feel safe bringing forward their own more serious bullying claim.

This opens up the employer for bullying claims after the hypothetical third employee has left employment, when appropriate action will not mitigate the impact of the bullying claim opening the employer up for adverse action claims.

One response: treat it seriously and act appropriately!

Many forms of bullying can constitute a crime, and can be referred to the police, who will investigate on the balance of the evidence and then press charges if appropriate.

In a workplace this is not the standard employers must apply.  In the workplace the first thing employers need to understand is that bullying is a subjective claim. That is to say that if an employee feels they have been bullied, then they have at least for the purposes of the businesses response.

Unlike the police there is not a series of different responses depending on the quality of the claim, the evidence, the victim and other mitigating circumstances.  In a workplace there is only one response that is appropriate from an employerthat is to treat every bullying incident, claim and rumour as if it happened to the victim in plain view.

Handling the Investigation: Tips and Traps

Do ensure the safety of the victim and the respondent.

Both have a right to work free from vilification or threat. This means that you may need to reassign duties so they are not in contact, or even look at standing them down until the investigation is complete

Do ensure that the investigation is discrete but discusses and verifies all facts and statements as much as possible.

Do ensure that the person appointed to do the investigation is not a party to the claim and that they are able to make findings and recommendations free from personal bias.

This does not mean you need to appoint an independent investigator, but care should be given to appoint the best person in the business who can confidently present recommendations and whose nature, personal relationships and business role does not create a bias within the investigation

Do ensure that the parties (victim and respondent) are appraised of the process and the outcomes of the process

Let them both know that it will be investigated and that a report will be presented to management.  That the report will be considered and then action taken as required.  Let them know what the timeline will be for this swift but unrushed!

Do ensure that you clearly present the management actions to the parties.

This should be done formally in writing

Do ensure that you follow up with the parties re ongoing incidents and safety at work.

This includes the respondent as they may be subjected to vilification

Do ensure that you revisit bullying policies, procedures, rights and expectations with all staff.

Don’t laugh it off because you know/suspect it is a spurious claim.

Every claim must be treated by the business as real and serious until an investigation shows otherwise

Don’t gossip and engage in vilification.

Discretion is required to protect the victim and the respondent, particularly in the investication stage

Don’t rush and don’t forget to gather all sides of the story before responding.

Don’t forget to follow up.

Ask for help

When dealing with bullying in the workplace all levels of management must respond appropriately. This means following established business policies and procedures consistently, treating the claim as serious, investigating appropriately, reporting back to victim and ensuring that confidentiality is maintained and that victimisation of any of the parties does not occur. ACAPMA members are reminded that ACAPMAlliance has a series of resources from Quick Reference Guides to template letters and investigation and reporting checklists for bullying that can assist with ensuring compliant and consistent responses in this area.
Bullying in the workplace is a risk to employees health and safety. Knowing how to appropriately handle bullying claims and rumours, as well as building a culture where employees feel safe at work and comfortable brining forward claims to management, is important to business success. It is a difficult and confusing area of workplace relations, but one that it is imperative to get right.

Here to Help

ACAPMA members are reminded that ACAPMAlliance has a series of resources from Quick Reference Guides to template letters and investigation and reporting checklists for bullying that can assist with ensuring compliant and consistent responses in this area, and can call on the advice and support of the ACAPMAlliance Workplace Relations Professionals on 1300 160 270.

HR Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business.  They are provided as general advice and you should seek further advice on your situation by  calling 1300 160 270 and speaking to one of ACAPMA Workplace Relations Professionals its free for members. ACAPMA Membership is affordable at only $550 per year for a single site and valuable with sites gaining HR advice support and representation as well as a raft of other benefits and discounts.  Click here to learn more about ACAPMA Membership.