Unfair, Unprofessional and Unsubstantiated: Public Allegations of Bullying Must be Stopped!

The trend of individuals making very public complaints alleging bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace is not just worrying, it’s a disgrace.

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.


    1. Hello Martin

      Without doubt the usual lobbying of local members etc. However, I hope that through this type of conversation being had one hundred times over, the message that there is actually an imbalance in such cases is heard, and taken seriously . Our human rights lobbyists also need to understand that human rights is not just about protecting people in weaker or more vulnerable situations. People from all walks of life have the human right to justice. It’s a different mindset for many of them. The CEO has human rights just as does the volunteer collecting money for a not for profit.

      At the moment Fair Work Commission seems genuine and responsive in protecting the rights of complainants. They need to introduce provisions that allows them to impose fines on those who fail to protect the rights of respondents.


      1. I work in the employee relations space and find that bullying is alleged just about every-time performance management is pursued. I feel that its the media that need to be tamed more than additional legislative processes. We are constantly being fed stories of bullying via the media be that workplace, schoolyard or cyber and whilst it has been useful to raise the profile of bullying to a certain extent it has now come to be fashionable to report on this widely in the media – you will never see them retracting their stories – just google Somyurek’s story from your headline – it is still getting media attention even today.


  1. Thanks for the article Stephen. It is a timely reminder of the need for everyone to have confidentiality and privacy applied to them when accused of behaving inappropriately. The politician in question has already been made to look guilty through trial by media whether it was intentionally portrayed that way or not. He is damned no matter what the investigation shows – if it is unsubstantiated then it will be described as a whitewash or cover up and if it is substantiated then he will be politically assassinated.
    Unfortunately, the way anti-bullying laws are framed it has become a case of guilty until proven innocent rather than the other way around. Not that I am advocating poor behaviour but I do strongly believe in a proper process and not an automatic presumption of guilt based on bare facts.


  2. Hi Stephen, agree 100% that these matters need to remain confidential, and not played out in public. My question is, by referring to the case in your blog and “naming names”, aren’t you also guilty of the actions you are protesting about?


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