Rates of sexual assault and harassment as well as threatening or abusive conduct have been declining in the public sector. Worryingly however, reports of bullying, racism and discrimination are on the increase.

The annual WA Public Sector Commission 2016/17 report revealed that 534 minor misconduct complaints were received during that year. Comprising of 969 separate allegations, 64% (621 complaints) were regarding staff behaviour with almost one third of those allegations being substantiated. A significant increase on the 468 complaints received the previous year, these figures reveal a disturbing trend.

Of the alleged complaints 37% resulted in referrals for training, counselling or improvement, in 21% of cases ‘other action’ was taken and in 2%, no sanction was applied. In the remaining 40% of cases however, the result was termination of employment. Surprising for many considering the enduring myth that public sector employees ‘cannot be sacked’.

We are frequently contacted by various private organisations as well as local/state or federal government agencies to conduct investigations into misconduct, disciplinary issues and other workplace matters. Often we find that these problems have been longstanding and almost all will have resulted in considerable distress and cost to the organisation. It is a cause for amazement that, unfortunately, some fully grown adults simply do not know how to play nicely in the work sandpit.

So is it the failure that people have not made themselves aware of how to conduct themselves in the workplace? Is it that some individuals were bullies at school and see the workplace as a transition from the school yard? Is there some other problem of temperament that allows people to believe that it is okay to behave in a threatening or unpleasant manner? In truth there are a myriad of reasons why people engage in these behaviours.

Organisations typically have policies and procedures relating to matters such as conduct, bullying, harassment and discrimination in place. Worryingly however we do still encounter some that have not implemented any.

From our experience, we have found that organisations that put the following in place, are less likely to receive complaints and allegations and are also able to resolve resulting problems much more smoothly.

  • Ensuring that there are robust policies and procedures
  • Conducting regular training sessions
  • Assisting managers and supervisors to develop skills to effectively resolve problems
  • Promptly managing any issues as a matter of priority
  • Taking a focused pulse check through workplace surveys and exit interviews
  • Enabling employees to have access to an Employee assistance program

Public Sector Commission
The West Australian Newspaper, 15th September 2017