‘Prevention is better than cure’ is an old saying that certainly holds true in the area of harassment, bullying and discrimination at the workplace. With each of these issues, while an offender can be personally held to account, the company can also be held liable for the failings of its employees under a legal concept known as vicarious liability. One of the best ways to provide a defence against such a potential claim is to have in place a company policy that addresses each of these issues.

The policy would, in the first instance, outline what constitutes harassment, bullying and discrimination, and indicate that the company recognises its legal obligations and takes them seriously. Employees would be urged to report any instances of unacceptable behaviour and be assured that action would be taken via an investigation of the complaint and appropriate follow-up.

If the complaint was found to be valid, action arising could range from a formal warning for lesser offences, up to dismissal for more serious cases. Employees would be reassured that by lodging a complaint they would not be subjected to retaliatory action and they still have recourse to either Fair Work or the Anti-Discrimination Commission. (A thorough investigation would include seeking evidence backing up the complaint – all the while restricting interviews to only those other employees who might have specific knowledge of the alleged offence.)

Having drawn up a policy it would be essential to make it known to all employees, through either person-to-person or departmental discussion, and to publicise its existence. The policy should also be covered in the induction process for all new employees.

It would be useful to have the job descriptions of managerial and/or supervisory staff include an obligation to be mindful of these issues and to take action should any potential problems arise – before they become major issues.

The company must be able to show that this policy is a ‘living document’, which is reviewed regularly to ensure that complacency does not set in.

A unified template policy document covering all these issues is available through the industrial relations department on request.

For more information seek guidance from your professional advisor or contact MTA Global – email to register and access AADA Industrial Relations and Workplace Health and Safety related services at a special member rate.

Ted Kowalski

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