Will misconduct complaints rise with return to office?

EY Oceania report highlights increase in claims of harassment, bullying

Will misconduct complaints rise with return to office?

With the gradual return to the office as the worst of the pandemic subsides, should employers expect a spike in harassment complaints?

Back in 2020, a study from the HR tech firm Culture Shift revealed that many people in the U.K. were reluctant to return to the office.

Why? They weren’t just worried about COVID-19: More than one-third (37 per cent) felt there may be a higher tendency for them to experience bullying or harassment back at work.

And over one-third (34 per cent) said they were anxious about seeing somebody they had a negative relationship with.

EY misconduct

Those fears line up with a report from EY Oceania, which revealed that misconduct and disciplinary complaints rose in 2022.

In a scorecard report looking at several baseline areas such as customer satisfaction, supply chain diversity, reconciliation, community investment, talent attraction, training and development, and workplace culture, the company said that it received a total of 64 complaints from employees — compared to 39 in 2021.

There have been 17 formal workplace investigations carried out by the company in 2022, including five substantiated claims of sexual harassment (compared to two in 2021) and four substantiated complaints for bullying (compared to one in 2021), as well as four for multiple allegations of bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment.

As to why, EY cited the return to the office:

“With many of our people working remotely in FY21, we saw a decrease in complaints due to people not being in the office or attending events together.”

But the company also mentioned a boost in awareness: “We have also increased training so that our people know what types of behaviours to report including our Bystander Intervention training and training of Welfare Contact Officers.”

Australia's Parliament has passed a new legislation that underscores the responsibilities of employers in preventing sexual harassment in their workplaces.

Safe work environment

The scorecard came after the death of an employee in late August, just hours after attending a social event with the company’s staff at a local bar. CEO David Larocca said the company would launch an internal review of the company's workplace safety, security, and social events in the wake of the incident.

With over 10,000 staff members, EY says in the report it is trying to achieve an "open and psychologically safe work environment" where people are comfortable in raising complaints when necessary.

"We measure success not necessarily by the reduction in the number or type of complaints (because, as we know, low reporting can be symptomatic of problems in itself)," says the company. "Rather, we look for a reduction in the severity of complaints and for a general sense that everyone in the business feels fully supported and confident that issues are taken seriously and dealt with appropriately."

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