Free eBook

Free eBook:
How to respond to Workplace Bullying:
A guide for employers, managers & team leaders

Get your copy now

WISE Training:
Government accredited, diplomas, certificates and more

Enrol now

The Latest from the Blog

Reinstatement Appeal Awarded in Favour of Teacher

Harriet Stacey - Tuesday, April 15, 2014
                     

Last week the Fair Work Commission ruled in favour of a teacher who appealed against unfair dismissal after 37 years of service. The appeal was granted in spite of recognition that there was a valid reason for him not to be reinstated. In the ruling the Fair Work Commission stated that the employer had acted unfairly during the process and had not adequately investigated reinstatement options for the teacher. The teacher was employed by the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta and had been an employee there for 37 years. He was dismissed at the end of 2012 after refusing to follow a direction not to have contact with students out of school hours (for non-school related activities). Although the request not to have contact with students was found to be reasonable, the way the matter was handled and the teacher’s subsequent dismissal were considered unfair by the Fair Work Commission. This result highlights the need for employers to thoroughly consider reinstatement options for employees and to ensure that employees are fully informed if there is a possibility that they will be dismissed.
Employees should be advised if dismissal is a possibility
The teacher was dismissed at the end of last year after a disciplinary interview. During the process, and especially during the interview he wasn’t made aware of the possibility that he would be dismissed. The Fair Work Commission found that he wasn’t advised that the issues being discussed were significant enough to lead to a dismissal or that the diocese was considering dismissing him. This meant that he was not given an opportunity to address the allegations against him and put forward his case against being dismissed. Investigations also showed that the decision to dismiss the teacher was made for a number of reasons which weren’t discussed during the disciplinary interview. These included unsubstantiated rumours of sexual misconduct. During that time a number of teachers were under investigation for alleged sexual abuse of children and this was believed to be an influencing factor in the decision to dismiss the teacher. These reasons weren’t discussed with him prior to his dismissal and he wasn’t provided with the opportunity to respond to them. Although the teacher was advised that he would have the opportunity to put forward his case to the diocese’s executi ve director, he was never given that chance and was dismissed a couple of weeks later.
Unfair procedure
The Fair Work commission ruled that although the procedure for dismissing the teacher was unfair, the ruling for him to avoid out of school contact with students was reasonable. At the time, the school was under scrutiny for alleged sexual misconduct, and the request for teachers to avoid unsupervised contact with children was reasonable to protect the reputation of the school and the teachers and prevent further allegations being made against them. The Fair Work Commission also agreed that it was reasonable for the principal to refuse to reinstate the teacher to a teaching position, but that other options hadn’t been fully evaluated. The teacher had requested a non-contact position which didn’t involve spending time with students and this wasn’t given due consideration. The teacher had been with the school for 37 years and the fact that his long service hadn’t been taken into consideration formed a significant part of the appeal. This case highlights the need for employers to consider all reinstatement options for employees and ensure that any dismissal is conducted in a fair and reasonable manner.

What are the Steps Involved in An External Investigation

Harriet Stacey - Thursday, April 10, 2014

 

Workplace misconduct, bullying and harassment are surprisingly common among Australian organisations. Although many problems can be managed and resolved through in house human resources and management, sometimes hiring an external investigator is the best option.

A good workplace investigation follows a series of steps to ensure a fair outcome for everyone and an unbiased investigation. Although every investigation is slightly different here is a brief outline of the steps that are usually involved in the investigation process:

1. Define the scope and Terms of Reference
Before engaging an external investigator or with the assistance of the investigator, clients must determine what is wrong with the behaviour that has been reported – define the scope of the investigation and prepare initial allegations or issues to be investigated. Clearly articulating the scope and allegations made in writing to the investigator is a high determinant of success for the investigation and welfare of staff involved.
2. Appoint an external investigator
It’s important to take time to find the right external investigator. A poorly undertaken investigation could be a waste of time and money and could leave you liable for additional costs in the long term, especially if a dissatisfied employee decides to take further action against the outcome or the way the investigation was conducted. Make sure you find a professional investigator with a Private Investigator licence. The licencing process ensures minimum qualifications/experience, and a code of practice. After establishing the correct licence find an investigator with a good track record, solid experience and understanding of the law, particularly in the specific area you are investigating.
3. Analyse the information that’s available
The first step an external investigator should take is to thoroughly examine the information that’s available. In cases of harassment this means looking at all the records and any evidence on either side and gaining a general understanding of the circumstances, workplace policies and any issues that could have led up to the alleged bullying or misconduct. Once the investigator has an understanding of the situation he or she can make an informed decision as to how to proceed.
4. Interviewing the complainant and witnesses
After the investigator has discussed the situation in depth with the client, the next step is to interview the complainant, any witnesses to gather further information. Interviews should be conducted in a private location, recorded and allowing the interviewees to have a support person present if they wish. Copies of records must be provided to individuals to check and sign. In many investigations the initial interviews may reveal new or different information or additional leads. If this is the case, follow up interviews may be required to verify or further investigate new allegations or information.
5. Examination of records
The investigator should be given access to all relevant documents, emails and available digital data to corroborate statements made by witnesses. To ensure impartiality, the examination of disciplinary records should only be undertaken if relevant to the facts at issue. The final decision maker can use prior disciplinary records to determine an appropriate penalty but this should not be considered at the investigation stage.
6. Putting the allegations to the respondent
Only when all the evidence has been gathered is it appropriate to speak to the respondent. Speaking to the respondent last ensures that all relevant allegations and evidence can be put to the respondent for a full and fair response. It is a requirement to meet the obligations under procedural fairness to provide the respondent the opportunity to respond to all allegations this should be done in an environment that is supportive. Audio record this interview wherever possible and make sure the respondent gets a copy to sign. Respondents should always be given the opportunity to have a support person present to give support but not advocate on their behalf. It is fair to provide an opportunity for a written response to be provided also.
7. Analysis and report
Once all the information has been obtained, the investigator will analyse the information and produce a report detailing their findings. The report should detail the investigator’s findings, whether the allegations of misconduct or bullying can be upheld and show how they reached their conclusion. They may also make recommendations for further action by management.
8. Notify parties involved
The complainant and the respondent should be notified of the outcome of the investigation and what further steps are required on both sides. It’s important that any workplace investigation follows a logical process and that findings are carefully detailed to avoid further legal action and ensure a fair outcome. A well-managed investigation can help resolve the situation and lets everyone move on as quickly as possible. Contact us today if you have any questions about the investigation process or to find an experienced, professional external investigator.

No harassment no unfair dismissal - ruling clears Energy Australia

Harriet Stacey - Tuesday, April 01, 2014

On March 25th, an application against Energy Australia made by a former director of corporate affairs was dismissed at the Federal Court by Justice Julie Ann Dodds-Streeton. Former Energy Australia employee Kate Shea claimed that she had been made redundant in 2012 as retribution for sexual harassment complaints made previously and this was found not to have been the case.

Justice Dodds-Streeton stated that Energy Australia had sound business reasons for making the redundancy and Ms Shea’s claims had no reasonable basis and were made for personal gain rather than in good faith.

The allegations

The claims that were previously made against Energy Australia included allegations that managing director Richard McIndoe was previously involved in sexual harassment against a female employee at a party in 2006. Ms Shea also claimed that she had been the victim of sexual harassment in 2010 by then chief financial officer Kevin Holmes and that Energy Australia had a corporate culture in which sexual harassment was condoned.

An investigation was undertaken relating to Ms Shea’s complaints in 2011 and the results found that although Mr Holmes had made contact with her he had not sexually harassed her. After the investigation, Ms Shea sent a letter to Mr McIndoe accusing him, along with the CFO and the company’s HR director of concealing evidence and working to cover up a culture of sexual harassment within the organisation.

The letter is said to have contained a number of demands including one for a financial settlement, and threats that if the demands weren’t met in a specific time frame the letter would be sent to Energy Australia’s parent company in Hong Kong, CLP Holdings Limited. Ms Shea received a sum of $133,000 and returned to work in October 2011. She and her personal assistant were made redundant four months later after a company restructure.

The outcome

Justice Dodds-Streeton noted that Section 341 of the Fair Work Act 2009 has not yet been thoroughly tested from a judicial standpoint, and that there are still a number of significant aspects which are left unaddressed. Although there is no requirement for complaints made against a company to be justified or for an accusation to be true or proven, there is still a requirement for claims to be reasonable and genuinely held by the complainant. According to Justice Dodds-Streeton, the claims made by Ms Shea weren’t made in good faith but purely from the motivation of financial gain. The judge stated that she wasn’t convinced that Ms Shea had any real belief that her former colleagues’ conduct amounted to sexual harassment and this was apparent in her conduct as a witness.

The judge also determined that complaints made against an organisation need to be underpinned by a right or an entitlement. In Ms Shea’s case, there wasn’t enough of a connection between the alleged misconduct of Mr McIndoe against another female employee and the employment of Ms Shea.

Ms Shea had been seeking reinstatement and lost earnings which would have amounted to around $6M. The judge ruled out reinstatement, due to the fact that the trust required for an employee/employer relationship was gone. Energy Australia and the employees involved were cleared of any allegations of harassment and misconduct and the redundancy was found to have been made for sound business rather than personal reasons.

Harriet Stacey 28 Jan 2014

Following the recent anti-bullying amendment to the Fair Work Act, WISE CEO Harriet Stacey talks about the importance for employers to be proactive and effective in how they deal with workplace bullying.