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Investigating harassment in your company

Like many who run businesses, you may aspire to create a work environment where your employees feel like family. You may hope they will enjoy working together and, perhaps, even spend their free time socialising and supporting each other. Even if you do not expect your employees to become fast friends, you will at least want them to get along and to show respect for one another.

Unfortunately, even careful hiring practices do not always eliminate the possibility that the actions or behaviours of one or several employees will make others feel uncomfortable, harassed or even bullied at work. When this happens, it is your responsibility to deal with the situation appropriately. However, you are an employer – not a parent – so your actions must comply with the relevant laws related to workplace harassment.

Do you need help?

The workplace harassment provisions in the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act require employers to take seriously any reports of misconduct among employees. This is not a suggestion, and it is not enough to write off an incident as a misunderstanding until you have completed an appropriate investigation according to your company's policies. Your investigation must protect the privacy and confidentiality of those involved, and you must properly document the facts the investigation reveals.

You may have the resources to deal with an investigation in-house, but it would be wise to engage an experienced investigator under the following circumstances:

  • The allegations are more serious than you feel comfortable handling on your own
  • The situation or your relationship to anyone involved would appear to others as a conflict of interest
  • The allegations involve someone who is a senior member of your organisation
  • The complaint involves accusations of criminal conduct

If these or other circumstances are beyond your resources, handing the matter over to a skilled and experienced employment lawyer for investigation may be a good option.

After the investigation

The OHS law requires you to keep records of the investigation handy for at least two years in case an OHS officer inquires into the matter later on.

Once you have completed the investigation, you must take the appropriate actions to resolve the matter and perhaps address any circumstances you can change to prevent such things from happening in the future. This may include addressing issues among your employees, revising your policies against workplace misconduct or building strategies for dealing effectively with such matters in the future. A skilled lawyer can assist you in those areas, too.

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