Legislative provisions, which require unsubstantiated complaints of inappropriate workplace behaviour to remain confidential, are essential to ensure the spirit of natural justice in Australia. Legislation should apply to public reporting by media or staff at any stage prior to and during the process of investigating such allegations. Media and individuals should be held accountable and subjected to fines without the need to pursue costly court action for defamation.
Just last week, the world of politics once again demonstrated the rather unjust and public way it can deal with allegations of workplace impropriety. The treatment of Victorian Government Minister for Small Business, Adem Somyurek, whom, it is alleged, has demonstrated ‘a pattern of abusive behaviour and intimidating behaviour’ toward employees, has been extraordinarily disappointing. The complainant is a senior staffer from his own office. Even if Mr Somyurek is subsequently found to have bullied a number of employees and the senior staffer, he should be afforded an independent and ‘confidential’ investigation that answers to no parties other than the complainant, respondent and organisation, in this case the government of the day. An independent investigation should not be tainted by media speculation and/or political gamesmanship. Unfortunately, we currently have a workplace complaint being played out in front of colleagues, opponents, industry and the general public. How utterly unprofessional.
Even though Mr Somyurek is a politician, he – like any other person accused of behaving in an inappropriate manner at work – should be allowed to ‘have his day’ in a managed environment. Given Mr Somyurek was stood down pending investigation, a statement simply needed to be issued that Mr Somyarek had been stood down in relation to an internal matter. No further clarification was needed.
The same week, we had a very public allegation of bullying made against a senior surgeon at Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne. According to the ABC, an initial investigation by the hospital’s human resources department did not substantiate the complaint. However, the ABC currently reports ‘that fresh inquiries are now underway’. They describe their source as a ‘whistle blower’. The use of whistle blower procedures, which were intended to address corruption and maladministration for making workplace behavioural allegations, is in my view, highly questionable.
Unfortunately, allegations of workplace bullying against those with a high profile or senior position are becoming a free for all. Without stronger controls on how complaints are made, the current system leaves itself open to users and abusers with agendas other than natural justice. Regardless of an employee’s company standing, all allegations of inappropriate workplace behaviour should be investigated in a fair, confidential and thorough manner.
I certainly hope that both of the above cases result in a just finding, whether in favour of the complainant or respondent.