How to stop a complaint becoming legal action

by Janie Smith09 Jul 2014
As HR professionals, we’ve all been called on to deal with employee complaints.

But not all employers are so savvy when it comes to their dispute resolution process and they can find themselves on the wrong end of litigation, compensation and bullying claims.

Vince Scopelliti, managing director of alternative dispute resolution company Wise Workplace, said that a common mistake employers made was not taking the time to properly understand employee complaints.

“Before the employer can exercise any real avenue, they need to understand what the problem is. That’s one of the biggest mistakes that employers are making, they’ll get a complaint and might immediately refer it to an alternative dispute resolution process.

“Their failure to get some real understanding of the problem and how long it’s been going on means they’re not in a great position to determine the best approach to the matter. Employers usually want to cut and run. They want the problem to go away and they want the cost to be as minimal as possible in terms of human hours and dollar costs. They don’t always make that investment in getting to know what’s going on.”

Responding quickly to complaints before employees felt the need to take legal action was also important, he said.

Mediation could be an effective process for matters that did not involve serious misconduct, either conducted internally by HR or by an external mediator, but only if it was done in time.

“The longer employers leave a problem, the less likely mediation is to succeed because the parties develop a level of resentment towards the company and simply want to punish it for not listening to them and treating their problem seriously.

“Some employers are failing to respond quickly – they’ll only respond once there’s a worker’s compensation claim or an application to Fair Work Australia or some sort of legal proceedings are threatened.”

Scopelliti said there were varying degrees of mediation, from an informal talk with both parties internally to assess performance and behavioural issues and work out a solution, to engaging external mediators to work out any long-standing problems.

“A formal process is agreed to, signed off,  put into place and closely monitored to help both parties through the dispute process.

“If formal mediation isn’t possible, then legal advisors or court mediators can help parties arrive at a solution. The first step in the Fair Work Commission for responding to complaints of bullying is conciliation, a form of mediation implemented in a variety of court jurisdictions.”

Simply moving warring colleagues apart would not necessarily solve the problem, he said.

“If the company is large enough, they move people into other offices or divisions. It seems to be the quick-fire approach that employers take if they have that option.

“It often comes back to bite them because they’re not dealing with the underlying behaviour. When you separate two people, it doesn’t mean those people have changed. It just means those individuals may not come into contact with each other as often as they used to and the problem might just be transferred to another division.”

What do you consider to be the most effective dispute resolution method?
 
 
 
 

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