A legal view: What should happen after a bullying claim is made?

by Sarah Megginson10 Apr 2014
When a complaint of workplace harassment or bullying is raised, how HR responds to it can have just as big of an impact as the issue itself. So how should HR professionals respond after a bullying claim is made?

First and foremost, an investigation needs to take place. This task traditionally falls to HR to perform, although in certain circumstances, it may be prudent to outsource the mechanics of the investigation to ensure full impartiality and transparency.

Regardless of who performs it, the workplace investigation plays a vital role in allowing employees to raise their grievances and have them duly addressed.

An investigation often does little to repair workplace relationships, however – nor does it improve the atmosphere at work, or facilitate team cohesion, said Catherine Gillespie, Director, Workplace Conflict Resolution.

"In respect of the complainant and respondent, an investigation is a win/lose situation. For example, if allegations are substantiated, the complainant wins and the respondent loses," Gillespie explained.

"Very rarely do both parties feel any sense of satisfaction and closure from an investigation. In fact, an investigation usually leaves the participating parties feeling wounded, and this certainly does not support the parties to feel valued and to be producing their best work."

So while an investigation must be impartial and 'best practice', what happens after the investigation is also crucial to ensuring workplace harmony and productivity.


Gillespie offers these top 3 tips for HR professionals to effectively manage the resolution process after a workplace complaint has been lodged:


1.   Firstly, systemic issues should be identified, by the investigator and the employer, and addressed by the employer. "A good investigator will be vigilant in looking for factors that have directly and indirectly contributed to the situation," she said.

2.   Secondly, if suitable, mediation should be offered to both the complainant and respondent to help the parties agree on how to move forward after the investigation, and work together professionally in the future.

3.   Thirdly, after assessing the success of the mediation, a team workshop should be conducted. "This workshop should include team building activities as well as exercises to progress team projects, and to address team and interpersonal issues," Gillespie added.

COMMENTS

  • by Guy 10/04/2014 10:32:57 AM

    Thanks for the article, a tricky subject and certainly a bit of a minefield for HR practitioners. Aside from the investigation and resolution process, is there also now a requirement to go through a Public Interest Disclosure process?

  • by Nancy 10/04/2014 12:15:52 PM

    I would caution going straignt into an investigation on every allegation of bullying. Every case should first be assessed on its merit. Sometimes you might find that what the employee has alleged is bullying, turns out to be a reasonable lawful direction which they just do not like. Slow down, take a breath, and assess the information first. Mediation may be the first step you take.

    To raise it as a PID, it first must meet the requirements of a PID. It could very well be a PID if the complaint is made by a low level employee about superior. The superior could be using that imbalance of power in order to harass the lower level employee. In other circumstances, it may not meet the requirements of a PID.

  • by Ben 10/04/2014 12:26:43 PM

    I've found that the third step is vital, but may be seen as contrived and a token effort that doesn't address the core issues. I'd be interested in more info regarding appropriate team building activities that don;t necessarily mean people need to hug at the end, but understand the issues and get people back on task.

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