Employers that fail to respond to a complaint in accordance with any established procedure will undoubtedly be criticised later
Managing workplace bullying complaints can often appear to be an overwhelming task for busy HR professionals. Nevertheless, it is important that complaints that are received are appropriately and promptly responded to.
Below we provide some general guidance to employers for responding to workplace bullying complaints.
Employer’s policies and procedures
In response to a complaint of bullying in the workplace, employers should refer to any relevant policies (such as a grievance policy or anti-bullying policy) or other procedure provided in an applicable contract of employment or enterprise agreement.
Employers that fail to respond to a complaint in accordance with any established procedure will undoubtedly be criticised later for failing to deal with the matter in accordance with their own rules – creating opportunities to challenge any non-compliant response as well as any subsequent action taken by the employer (such as disciplinary action) that follow.
For example, in Keegan v Sussan Corporation (Aust.) Pty Ltd  QSC 64, the employee alleged that she suffered a psychiatric injury as a result of the bullying and harassment directed to her by the Store Manager over an 11 day working period and brought a negligence claim against the employer. The employee called the State Business Manager to complain that the Store Manager was bullying her. The employee was told “go home and put some lippy on” and “go home to your bub” and it was suggested that to resolve the situation the employee should meet with the Store Manager to have a “chat”.
The Queensland Supreme Court held that the State Business Manager’s response to the complaint made by the Employee was contrary to the Employer’s Bullying and Harassment Policy (Policy) and that the employer did not comply with its own Policy and processes. In particular, the employer failed to treat the complaint with appropriate seriousness and confidentiality, did not investigate the complaint and did not provide support to the employee.
The Court determined that it was reasonably foreseeable that psychiatric injury would have occurred as a result of the employer’s failure to follow procedures and handle the complaint promptly and in accordance with the Policy, and as such, the employer breached its duty of care. The employee was awarded the sum of $237,770 in damages.
Typically, a grievance policy will provide that: