Why is HR important? It’s a good question, one that is often answered when a conflict has occurred in a workplace which could’ve been avoided if HR was present in the first place. Recently, a Fair Work contract case awarded what’s being named one of the largest payouts for a general protection claim ever, after a general manager experienced bullying, harassment, and micromanagement at work. Let’s dive into see how an absence of HR resulted in this awful turn of events.
What went wrong
A senior manager of a racing club has received a $2.8 million dollar pay out after being subjected to bullying and an “overbearing micromanagement style”. This follows a ruling from the Federal Court that the company was negligent in preventing the treatment of the employee and thus being the cause of her psychiatric harm. This case is extremely significant, not just because of the enormous payout sum, but it shows how companies are failing to act on HR issues and thus facing the dire consequences of that inaction. This case demonstrates how important HR is in mediating and resolving workplace conflicts and how by involving HR sooner rather than later companies can avoid such a tumultuous outcome.
The manager in question had happily been with company since 1991, until the transition of a new CEO occurred in the beginning of 2016 which brought a wave of new issues. Throughout the next few months, the new CEO “bullied and harassed (the employee) from the outset of his role” and suppressed upon her an “overbearing micromanagement style”. The manager requested he stop this behaviour, as a response he then denied her from her annual bonus and the permission to go to particular area of the workplace, the stables where the horses are held, which was told to none of the other employees.
When looking at this case and its evidence, there is a clear, structured timeline of the bullying and micromanagement which occurred. This is important because it accurately shows how this leadership style presents itself and the effect it has on the employees which experience it. It is also important to analyse what points HR should intervene if this behaviour is demonstrated in the workplace.
After this incident in October 2016, the manager asked the CEO to inform the board of his actions and behaviour towards her, in which he ignored and asked to speak to her directly once again about “her performance at work” and when the manager presented a medical certificate confirming she had been affected by work stress and cannot continue to work, his only action was sending it to his father-in-law with the caption “dropping like flies”.
While the manager did complain to the board members of how his treatment of her was completely degrading her overall mental health and ability to do her job, the board did not act, and the complaints were ultimately dismissed. The court ruled that the board did not act sufficiently, “the board was really inactive in responding to this issue and chose to accept the CEO’s version of events entirely”. It is clear the board should’ve taken the employees claims seriously and the measures they should’ve taken following her claims, however instead they chose to go for the “brush it under the rug” approach like so many companies do, thinking it will be the easiest and simplest way to solve the issue. What actually happens is it places the employees in more danger by ignoring the bullying and harassment occurring in their own company and ultimately solves nothing but extends the problem.
The HR absence.
Yes, the absence of HR in this situation is concerning, but what is even more concerning is how quickly the events escalated and the effects it had on the individual. There was no intervention from an internal HR department or from an external HR consultant meaning there was no one to mediate or even address these issues leaving the employee to manage this situation on her own. These events only occurred over the course of a couple of months and yet it was able to cause 2.8 million dollars in damages for not only economic loss but $214 250 in pain and suffering. Yes, this is one of the biggest pay outs ever when it comes to workplace bullying and micromanaging, but this situation isn’t rare, in fact it’s common.
Katriina Tahka, CEO of A-HA, an employment lawyer by training, regularly conducts investigations and mediations for AHA clients. Katriina reflected on this case “all too often I see serious situations that could have been resolved quickly and amicably at the time that the initial conflict arose. However, they tend to get ignored either because people are too busy and don’t prioritise it or there is an internal lack of capability for handling more complex people issues. What many employers don’t realise is that you can quickly, and cost effectively get help resolving disputes like this at the time from HR experts like AHA and avoid the risk and cost of major litigation as in this (avoidable) case”.
When difficult situations arise in a workplace companies must act quickly. By taking the opportunity to address and solve an issue either through the use of internal or external HR. By doing this , you are protecting the work culture that has taken years to build and protecting the staff who must experience it every day.