How to respond to a workplace complaint

By Joanna Weekes on December 2nd, 2011

Earlier this week we started discussing the festive season and what you need to consider to make your Christmas celebrations for your employees as safe as possible.

This led to thinking about what can occur at work social functions (which is a higher risk environment than in a general workplace). The reasons for this higher risk level is often that:

  • there is alcohol consumption; and
  • the relaxed/social atmosphere at a Christmas celebration.

It is for these reasons that today we are discussing what you need to do if there has been a complaint or if you suspect that there may be inappropriate behaviour while you are responsible for the health and safety of your employees, and often also while you are liable for your employees’ behaviour.

Have you ever had an employee complain about something that happened to them under your watch?

Whether a complaint from an employee is made formally or informally and whether it was a one-off or a recurring problem is irrelevant, if you have been in any way alerted to a situation that may affect an employee’s health and safety, you have a responsibility to address it.

So if you hear or suspect that something may be going on in your workplace or in relation to your employees that may constitute bullying, discrimination or harassment, make sure that you follow the correct procedure to address and remedy the matter.

Even when a complainant is anonymous or has left their employment, the employer must treat all allegations seriously. Once you are on notice of any possible misconduct, failing to investigate because the complainant is unavailable for example, will not meet your obligations under health and safety legislation.

Note: You don’t need a complainant to start an investigation. A workplace investigation is employer-driven because of your obligations as an employer (it is not complainant-driven).

Please click here for Andrew Douglas’ advice about how to conduct a workplace investigation, and please refer to B1 Bullying, Discrimination and Harassment in your OH&S Handbook for more information around this subject.

Also, if you are looking for more detail about how to conduct a workplace investigation, we also have the Employment Law Practical Handbook which has just had a brand new W5 Workplace Investigations chapter released in the most recent update!

This Workplace Investigations chapter shows you exactly how to investigate – within the law – when an employee makes an allegation of bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination or other misconduct in your workplace. It discusses when a workplace investigation is necessary, who should conduct it, and how it should proceed. Plus, it also includes a handy 11-step guide to conducting a workplace investigation and 13 tips for ensuring that your investigation process is procedurally fair.

If you’d like more information about the Employment Law Practical Handbook, please click here to find out about the kinds of things you can learn by subscribing.

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