Allegations of employee misconduct are on the rise as staff adjust to working together after lengthy spells away from the office during the worst of Covid.  

Lateness, inappropriate conduct and bullying are among the issues Ai Group members say they are dealing with as some employees struggle to distinguish between private and public behavior. 

“People have become used to working in their own lounge room, so when they come into the office, they’re more inclined to be unguarded in what they say,” says David Cross, Legal Practitioner Director, Ai Group Workplace Lawyers. 

“At the same time, others are more inclined to take offence at what’s being said or what they regard as being personally damaging to them, so they make complaints.” 

Some employers have been waiting for staff to return to the workplace to address concerns raised during Covid lockdowns. 

“Many businesses were under the pump dealing with the logistics of lockdown, so they weren’t necessarily addressing performance issues or complaints at the time,” says Ai Group Workplace Lawyers’ Alexandra Targett. 

“They put it on the back burner which is contributing to the influx of allegations we are dealing with now. 

“Generally, however, there is less scope for these complaints to be generated when people are working from home (WFH) and communicating electronically. Things tend to spark up when people are in each other’s presence. There can be more tension when people have informal interactions at work. 

“From an employer’s perspective, you’ve got to manage the risk.” 

Possible causes of employee misconduct  

Allegations of employee misconduct may be triggered by:   

  • Communications regarded as curt or rude  

An employee might say: “I got a reply from the boss about the work I submitted, and it’s not chatty. It’s direct and rude and I don’t like it.”

  • The perception of being left out

Employees have taken umbrage with being inadvertently left out of online group chats, particularly when staff were WFH. They felt their performance was negatively impacted because discussions were held that didn’t include them. 

Businesses have also faced action from employees inadvertently left off the invite list for meetings. 

  • Bullying 

Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour towards an employee or group of employees that creates a risk to health and safety. 

Bringing your ‘whole self’ to work   

The idea of bringing your ‘whole self’ to work — a central element of workplace culture these days — has many positive aspects, but there are also challenges. 

“In spite of the ‘whole self’ idea, there are limits that ought to be observed,” Mr Cross said. 

“Detailed expositions of personal views or opinions are best shared with friends and family or in letters to the editor — not in front of your workmates because someone is bound to be offended. 

“In this day and age, people don’t brush things off, so you get this vicious cycle of unguarded commentary followed by an aggrieved reaction, which requires the employer to become bogged down in having to adjudicate these things when all they want to do is get the work done.” 

Timely reminder  

“Well before the onset of the pandemic and WFH arrangements, responsible employers would have had in place policies establishing normative requirements for people’s behaviour at work,” Mr Cross said. 

“The same for policies that establish how people can lodge complaints and for handling and resolving them.  

“However, the fact we’ve undergone these great changes where people were WFH and now coming back to the workplace means we need to ensure these policies and procedures remain fit for purpose. If not, they may need to be updated.” 

It is important to remind employees these policies and procedures exist. Workers need to remember it is necessary to comply with the normative requirements of a policy about behavior. 

Ai Group Workplace Lawyers can help 

There are many ways Ai Group Workplace Lawyers can help employers manage allegations of employee misconduct. 

Our team can:     

  • Review policy and procedures   

Ai Group Workplace Lawyers can perform a ‘health check’ on existing procedures and policies and provide advice on updating. 

  • Support workplace training  

We can create or update training materials to ensure policies are properly inculcated in the workforce. We also partner with employers to support the ongoing and repeated activity required to ensure that policies are embedded with an organisation. 

  • Investigate misconduct allegations  

We have a team of experienced investigators who complete independent, confidential investigations into misconduct allegations on behalf of employers. We also have a team of trained mediators for investigations that demonstrate that mediation would be an appropriate way of resolving the issue. 

  • Advise on individual employee matters 

This includes steps such as drafting warnings and/or performance improvement plans, both of which may be necessary where an issue has already occurred. 

“The more you invest in creating a clear policy framework, training and inculcation, the better your chances are of preventing allegations of employee misconduct,” Mr Cross said. 

If you need employment law advice or have any questions about handling allegations of employee misconduct, please contact Ai Group Workplace Lawyers on 1300 55 66 77.     

Save the date: November 16, 11am-noon AEDT, for our next HR Fundamentals webinar on “Dealing with Employee Misconduct”. 

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