Australia has seen a 2% increase in unemployment due to the impact of COVID-19 with the Reserve Bank of Australia expecting the unemployment rate to increase over 10% by 2021.
Throughout this time, Your Call has noticed an increase in workplace grievance related calls which don’t fall under the formal classification of wrongdoing or serious misconduct as defined by the whistleblowing provisions under the Corporations Act. Despite their classification, the trend is notable for employers who manage whistleblower programs and broader ‘speak-up’ frameworks.
The increase in grievance calls during 2020 have aligned with historical issues in the workplace due to the change in organisational structures & working from home during COVID19. In our initial research, the spike is commonly due to the change in power dynamics, removal of common triggers and causes/perception of fear which can block victim-survivors or bystanders from reporting.
A number of these recent reports have been surfaced during exit interviews. Exit interviews can be a powerful tool to bring known issues out of the shadows without the fear of retribution. Further, it can assist in highlighting reasons why an employee was fearful of raising the issue before leaving the company. With the new whistleblower provisions under the Corporations Act broadening the definition of ‘eligible whistleblowers’, to former employees, there has never been a more appropriate time to integrate questioning into your exit process. As outlined later in the article, preserving confidentiality and preventing detriment remains crucial in this process as does ensuring the information is properly assessed in-line with your investigation framework.
Workplace grievance issues, separate from issues of discrimination or bullying, are usually understood as disputes over managerial decisions (rostering, appraisals etc) or matters of interpersonal conflict as well as miscommunication. These inherently do not fall under the formal classification of a protected disclosure however we encourage clients to take these calls seriously and see the opportunity in encouraging a speak-up culture.
Problems can arise when significantly historical grievances are raised. Older issues are difficult to investigate and can require significant resourcing to follow up what actually happened. It can be common for employees involved to have since left, or simply the details have been muddled due to the length of time between the occurrence. As such, older issues are often brought up too late to be truly ‘fixed’. It is no surprise these situations could be mitigated if an employee felt comfortable to speak up when the issue took place due a speak-up culture or high-trust environment.
So why has an employee felt that they could not formalise a complaint when it actually occurred?
Exit interviews are a powerful tool to generate feedback, information and tip-offs. Potential key findings could be:
- Evidence of blockers, systemic issues, micro-cultures or intimidation/victimisation which prevented the employee from approaching the company before exit
- Policy or procedure deficiencies
- Training requirements
Providing the opportunity for employees to shine a light on these problem areas at the point of exit can demonstrate your commitment to the spirit of the legislation and may lead to useful information collection. Those carrying out the interviews must receiving specialized training both as Eligible Recipients (under the legislation), support/protection protocols & information collection.