Investigating workplace bullying

Dangers of failing to investigate claims of Workplace Bullying

May 22, 2018 | By Charlene Woodbine, Vitil

The FWC's recent decision to issue an anti-bullying order against Ramsay Health Care (Glengarry Hospital, Perth) provides a timely reminder to all Perth employers of the importance of investigating claims of workplace bullying thoroughly and in a timely manner.

The facts
  • The Applicant was employed by Ramsay Health Care as a Catering Assistant at Glengarry Hospital. During the course of employment over 6 years, the Applicant claimed that a group of employees "had waged a secret war to get her fired".
  • The Applicant provided specific examples of bullying including jokes made about her, abused her and made repeated allegations that she was drunk at work, taking extended smoke breaks and failing to perform her job - all of which resulted in the Applicant being performance managed.
  • Has the employee made any contact with you whilst they have been absent?
  • The Applicant also provided names and a phone number so that Ramsay Health Care could follow up the claims and commence an investigation. The Applicant also provided the names of three other colleagues and the Catering Manager who, she states, were able to corroborate her claims.
  • Perth based Ramsay Health Care stated that they did not investigate the Applicant's claims because the Applicant failed to provide specific information of the alleged bullying. Specifically, they argued that no formal complaint was lodged.
  • Ramsay Health Care defended managing the Applicant's performance on the basis that an investigation into the Applicant's performance was warranted and the process was conducted fairly.
The decision

In his judgement, Commissioner Williams delivered a strong message against Ramsay Health Care's inaction to investigate claims of workplace bullying. Commissioner Williams was left in "no doubt" of the need to issue an anti-bullying order and could find "no reasonable explanation" for her employer's failure to investigate the claims.

Key takeaways

From this decision, the following are the key points to be considered:

  • Ensure that your business has a Workplace Bullying and/or Grievance Policy. The policy should outline the steps to be followed when a complaint is made.
  • More importantly, ensure that the policy is followed on each occasion a complaint is made.
  • Perth employers have a responsibility to ensure the employee's wellbeing is not at risk. Therefore, even if you have a suspicion that there is bullying occurring or you haven't been given full information, it is critical that you make enquiries and investigate the claims, with the information that you have at hand.
  • Consider whether it would be appropriate to move the employee to a different area within your business temporarily while you are investigating to minimise further incidences.
  • Ensure that your investigation of a workplace bullying claim is unbiased and thorough. This decision highlights the importance of following up on specific information given by the employee, relating to their claims, in a timely manner.
  • Ensure that any witness accounts received are authentic and not scripted.
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