Workplace bullying and harassment – employee complaints – when should an employer take it seriously?

Workplace bullying and harassment – employee complaints – when should an employer take it seriously?



When employees complain about their colleagues – when should an employer take it seriously and how far do the employer’s obligations extend?

“Shelly’s so …
“Brian keeps…
“Dave makes me feel uncomfortable when he…
“Christie said…

It is not uncommon in the workplace for employees to have trouble getting along. It might be a classic personality clash, cultural misunderstanding, a group excluding one of its members, an employee being easily offended by office banter or employees struggling to take directions from their superiors. Depending on the personality types of staff, employee relation disputes can result in an intimidating work environment.

When employees make complaints about their colleagues the employer needs to analyse the situation before responding. An employer must take care to determine when complaints about workmates need to be taken seriously to ensure the employer upholds the employer’s duty of care and when they can be dismissed.

Employer’s obligations are extensive and include the obligation to ensure the work environment is a safe one. The health and safety responsibilities of employers should be taken seriously. This is because an employer’s liability can be extensive and significant.

The employer’s duty extends to ensuring the workplace is free of certain types of behaviour (for example sexual harassment in the workplace). An employer can be held liable for his or her employees’ behaviours although this risk can be alleviated by taking fast action when it is justified.

Receiving complaints

It is important as an employer to have a procedure available which allows employees to make complaints when necessary. Employees have a right to make complaints and should not be discouraged from doing so when legitimate.

On receiving a complaint from one employee about another, the employer should take considered steps in dealing with it.

As a first step, the employer should consider whether the complaint is a type which should be taken seriously.

Types of complaints to take seriously

At times it is obvious when a complaint should be taken seriously. For example complaints of sexual harassment, sexual assault, racial harassment or physical harassment in the workplace.

However this is not always the case. Behaviours which in fact constitute sexual harassment may be difficult to recognise as such.  Further, certain types of workplace bullying complaints, harassment at work, or complaints which in any way affect the safety of the workplace should be taken seriously.

Aitken Whyte Lawyers can assist you in determining whether employees’ complaints should be taken seriously and what steps if any ought to be taken in dealing with such complaints.  Obtaining legal advice before taking any steps which affect an employer/employee relationship is highly recommended. However when this doesn’t occur for example when dismissal happens in the heat of the moment, Aitken Whyte Lawyers can assist you with any disputes following termination or dismissal.

Office Location and Contact Details


Aitken Whyte Lawyers Brisbane
2/414 Upper Roma Street
Brisbane QLD 4000

Ph: 07 3229 4459
Fax: +617 3211 9311