Too Busy To Investigate Frivolous Workplace Complaints?

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Making an assumption that a workplace complaint is frivolous without investigation to substantiate this stance is fraught with danger. What if the complaint does have a genuine basis but you have allowed yourself to be biased by a manager’s perspective and interpretation of events and therefore don’t believe an investigation is necessary? Not to worry – you are too busy and have other more important and urgent matters to attend to. Well, you should be worried.

Employers have a legal duty of care to provide a safe workplace. Therefore representatives of the employer (team leader, supervisor, manager, contact officer and HR) all have a duty of care to ensure that complaints of unsafe behaviour are escalated to an appropriate representative who has the responsibility and authority to manage the complaint. Failing in this duty of care: may be a breach of the Work Health Safety Act (or its equivalent in your state); may expose liability for damages and/or workers compensation claims; shows a lack of respect and compassion for staff; and creates a culture of fear and unhappiness which contributes to poor productivity and lack of engagement.

In the case of Kosteski and Comcare [2014] AATA 217 (14 April 2014), it would appear that not one of these employer representatives took responsibility for ensuring that the employee’s complaint was noted and appropriately addressed. Understandably, liability for stress under a workers compensation claim (caused by the request that an employee return to a worksite which she believed was unsafe and for which she had raised several complaints) was placed solely on the employer. Had the representative responsible for ensuring complaints were properly addressed done an investigation, appropriate action could have been taken to ensure the safety of the employee and provide substantive documentation if required to defend the actions taken by the employer.

Inaction and masking decisions as ‘reasonable management action’ without processes to support this claim are not suitable forms of defence.

It is good practice for policy to explicitly state the role each employer representative has in the complaints handling process and for position descriptions to be aligned with policy in this regard. Staff in positions of authority must be held accountable for their role (acts or omissions) with the complaints handling process and this should be supported by clear statements of responsibility within a position description.

It is also good practice for policy to mandate that all complaints must be addressed (and documented) and for training to be provided in the procedurally fair handling of complaints.


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About the Author

Catherine Gillespie brings a wealth of skill to her clients. With particular expertise in teaching communication and workplace conflict resolution skills, Catherine has made a marked difference to the organisations she has worked with. She empowers teams and managers to adopt constructive styles that support harmony, productivity and progress in the workplace.