Take complaints seriously or you may end up paying for it

One of the biggest myths managers have around allegations of inappropriate behaviours is that they can’t really act unless a formal complaint has been made.

Unfortunately this is not the case and from my experience only worsens the situation.

In a recent case in Victoria a female employee raised concerns about a series of inappropriate comments made towards her as well members of the public. She claims that one of the comments made to her by YLH (identity has been suppressed) was:

“You are not employed on your merit only employed because of your sex and your disability”.

In this case she raised her concerns to her manager and stated that she felt “scared to drive home… and that she was afraid of what would happen if she made a formal complaint”.

As her direct manager was busy that day, they escalated the complaint to the divisional manager. According to the tribunal’s report the divisional manager told her:

“If you make a complaint you are putting the whole disability project at risk”;

“You are working in a man’s working environment and you need to expect that kind of unwanted attention”; and

“You look tired maybe you are perceiving it wrong. Maybe you are being oversensitive”.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) found that this was poorly handled and awarded costs of $10,000.00 to the employee.

What we can learn from this?

There are number of things that businesses, HR Professionals and Managers can gain from a case like this:

  1. Take all complaints seriously. When someone raises an issue around inappropriate behavior, it’s important to deal with it in a professional and non judgemental manner. Being respectful towards the complainant and offering them the support they need. Demeaning their complaints because they look tired and sensitive or because of their gender is not only inappropriate, but in many cases against the law.
  2. We all have an obligation under the States Health and Safety legislation to ensure that people feel safe at work. If someone states that they don’t feel safe then you have a legal obligation to either investigate the claims or provide appropriate support to the employee.
  3. Just because they don’t want to make it formal, doesn’t mean you should not take it seriously. There are a number of precedents where the courts have recognised that a complaint does not have to be made formally to be acted upon. Furthermore there are a number of cases where people have lost their lives because an informal complaint was not actioned.

The main point here is that as a manager or an employer, you have a legal and ethical responsibility to act on all allegations and complaints. Not every complaint will need a full investigation but they all need to be dealt with respectfully, in line with your policies and relevant legislation, but also within a timely manner.

If you would like to know how we can help you in cases like this contact us today on (07) 4772 3800.

Scott Timmins GradCertPSM, CAHRI, AFIML

Sources: HRM: A mismanaged complaint cost this company thousands

               XVC v Joanne Baronessa (Human Rights) [2018] VCAT 1492 (3 October 2018)