Recently, Synergy Workplace Investigations was tasked with investigating a whistle-blower complaint. Our instructions were two-fold: 1. establish the facts surrounding the ‘incident’, and; 2. determine if reasonable management action had been taken with regard to other complaints that had been made by the complainant preceding the whistle-blower complaint.
As part of our investigation into the matter relating to reasonable management action it was determined that management had conducted their investigations and made their findings in accordance with all relative legislation and their own grievance resolution and management policies.
What became apparent throughout the course of our investigation was that the whistle-blower complaint was made as a direct result of the complainant feeling aggrieved by the findings of her previous complaints, despite those findings being fair, unbiased and, in one instance in her favour. As workplace investigators we see this all too often.
The complainant lodged her first grievance after being subjected to a performance management meeting. This was her first such meeting in over 30 years having worked for the organisation, and by all accounts she has been an exemplary employee during her employment. Whilst the meeting was conducted in accordance with the organisation’s policies, the complainant felt as though she was being ‘singled out’ and blamed for other co-workers incompetence. She was adamant that she had done nothing wrong. The allegations that were raised against her work performance were found to be ‘unsubstantiated’ however she was given clear instructions in the meeting of the organisations expectations for future similar incidences. This meeting was the catalyst for all subsequent grievances.
As an employer it is important to understand that whilst performance management processes are there to act as guidelines for appropriate management action, each employee may require different levels of ‘management’ during the process. The complainant has since been off work for over a month after the performance management meeting and, based upon her subsequent complaints, it is apparent that due to the way the matter was handled, her confidence in the organisation’s management team has declined to such a point that she had labelled them as ‘toxic’.
Whilst organisations have a right to take management action against a worker who has not performed their duties appropriately (as this organisation did) one could reasonably argue that providing only the complainant with the ‘clear directions moving forward’ could have caused the complainant undue stress and anxiety. The complainant was adamant that she had not done anything wrong and the allegations against her were unsubstantiated. Given this, had the organisation provided these ‘clear directions’ to all relevant staff as opposed to only the complainant, it is likely that she would not have been so aggrieved by the process.
This single action could have effectively mitigated all subsequent complaints made by the complainant and the need for management to spend countless hours investigating vexatious complaints. In addition to this, the complainant may not have taken sick leave and been away from the workplace for an extended period of time and her confidence in her management team may not have been so profoundly impacted upon. As it stands at this time, we find it highly unlikely that the worker will be able to be reintegrated back into the workplace without further issues arising.
The lesson learned in this case, was that whilst an employer may be justified in the action taken against a worker, the way in which the action is taken, and the manner in which management decisions are disseminated can be crucial to preventing complaints.