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When bullying complaints are raised

In what seems to be a growing area, employers are often finding themselves on the wrong end of a bullying complaint from an employee when the employer has commenced a legitimate disciplinary or performance improvement process.

While this may be considered as a cynical retaliation strike against the employer by the employee, the worst thing the employer can do is ignore the complaint. Bullying is a very topical area at the moment in New Zealand and studies have suggested that between 20% and 33% of New Zealand workers report bullying or harassment annually. WorkSafe NZ says that businesses must recognise that bullying is a health and safety risk and deal with reports of bullying quickly and appropriately.

This means, even if you consider a complaint to be cynical, you must inquire into the complaint before you can determine whether it lacks substance.

This can be frustrating for employers, however failure to address a complaint of bullying can expose you to greater risks, including a prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

If an employee, even though you may have commenced a legitimate disciplinary or performance improvement process, raises a complaint of bullying against you, you must act on that complaint and investigate it quickly and appropriately. As a small business, this may mean engaging an external party, such as McKone Consultancy, to inquire into the complaint and to report back findings on whether the complaint is substantiated or not.

It would not be appropriate to undertake the investigation yourself if the complaint is against you, the business owner, as this will not be seen as impartial. An independent investigator can objectively inquire into the complaint to see if bullying has occurred and report accordingly, allowing you to then act on the independently determined facts and not your personal feelings towards the employee.

WorkSafe NZ suggests the following guidelines for dealing with a bullying complaint:

  • Take all allegations seriously

  • Act promptly

  • Set timelines and deal with reports/complaints as soon as you can after you receive them.

  • Clearly communicate the process

  • Tell everyone involved what the process is.

  • Let the people involved know if there are delays to timelines.

  • Ensure non-victimisation

  • Protect the people involved from victimisation.

  • Support the people involved

  • Anyone involved can have a support person present at interviews or meetings (e.g. health and safety representative, their union, colleague, friend).

  • Tell everyone involved what support is available to them (e.g. do you have an employee assistance programme, health and safety representatives?).

  • Maintain privacy (confidentiality)

  • Maintain privacy for all parties involved.

  • Ensure details of the matter are only known to those directly concerned (except their representative or support person).

  • Be unbiased and fair

  • Treat the people involved fairly.

  • Get someone unbiased and trained to look into the allegation.

  • Make decisions on how to deal with the allegation based on the facts.

  • Clearly tell the people involved what you are going to do (taking into account privacy).

If you have need for an independent investigator to inquire into allegations of bullying or harassment in your workplace, contact Tony at McKone Consultancy today for an obligation free discussion on how to proceed.

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