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When performance reviews result in bullying and harassment claims, and how to avoid them

Reasonable performance management of staff, conducted in a rational and constructive manner is not workplace bullying. Unfortunately however, for many Managers, the performance review process can often result in bullying and harassment claims.  The process usually goes like this…

  1. Employee is unhappy with their performance review
  2. Employee refers their complaint to HR or lodges a workers compensation claim to be investigated by the insurance company
  3. A contracted Mediator is introduced to each party and discusses their concerns separately
  4. The Mediator brings the two parties together to assist with communication and attempts to resolve the issue
  5. The issue is either resolved, handed back to IR or escalated to the Fair Work Ombudsman or other legislative body

Performance reviews are the norm in businesses today, however employers need to tread carefully when providing feedback on the quality and timeliness of work and performance, especially when they have been known to disagree with certain individuals in the past. Disagreements and head-butting are also normal, but bullying and harassment claims as a result are not. Follow our advice on the best way to conduct a performance review, reducing the risk of such claims:

  1. Before the review even begins, ensure any issues are dealt with at the time of occurrence – don’t wait until a workers performance review to bring up any issues, especially around safety, as the employee may think you’re knit-picking.
  2. Keep a written record of any issues – not only do you have evidence to back up your claims, but if issues progress to Fair Work, without a record demonstrating that you’ve dealt with the issue at the time, they may infer that you’ve condoned specific behaviour.
  3. Be consistent – across all employee communication, praise and feedback, values, practices and policies. Consistency ensures that workers don’t see your behaviour or reaction as more aggressive towards them than other employees, or unfair treatment.
  4. Follow procedure – ensure all paperwork has been filled out prior to the performance review and let the worker review it before the actual review takes place. This gives them time to form a response, provide situational examples and pose questions.
  5. Particularly for inferior reviews, have another management level staff member or supervisor join you and take notes. This allows you to backup any claims or comments made in the meeting, and will avoid a he-said, she-said situation.
  6. Let the worker have a support person – for a similar reason, the worker will be able to backup any claims or comments, as well as feel as though they’ve been fairly treated and supported throughout the process.

If performance issues need to be addressed, ensure that you are constructive and supportive, and provide feedback on the positive and negative outcomes. When treated with respect and when policies, procedures and guidelines are followed, there should be no reason for a performance review to turn into a bullying and harassment claim. For further support, or advice on how to manage these types of claims, contact your Work Health Safety Provider.




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