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Employer support during bullying investigations

By Andrew Steele - 26 Sep 2018

How far does an employer need to go to support an employee with mental health/stress issues caused by a workplace investigation or disciplinary process? Hilford v The Order of St John is an example of how a personal grievance can succeed if the employer does not provide support to an employee who is suffering from such issues and does not investigate alleged bullying in an appropriate manner.

Following several years of complaints from Mr Hilford, a 'flawed' investigation was carried out by Mr Hilford's employer, St John. The investigation result was that there was no bullying.  However, the Authority held that investigation was not carried out in a fair and reasonable manner.

  • The investigation must be impartial, comprehensive and fair. Here, one of the perpetrators of the bullying carried out the investigation.
  • All of the parties must be heard. Mr Hilford was not interviewed. Only his colleagues were.
  • The complainant must be given an opportunity to provide comment on the investigation. Information was gathered by interviewing other employees but was not provided to Mr Hilford for his comment.

Earlier in the course of events, Mr Hilford returned to work, but St John had no return to work plan in place and no steps were taken to address the issues raised by Mr Hilford. St John had discussed that Mr Hilford be referred for a health and wellness check, but no referral took place. The subsequent inadequate investigation itself caused Mr Hilford's stress and resulting sick leave. In short, the Authority held that St John failed to take all reasonable and practicable steps to provide Mr Hilford with safe working conditions and that this unjustifiably affected his conditions of employment to his disadvantage.

The Authority found that the employer was in severe breach of its health and safety obligations as an employer and awarded Mr Hilford $35,000 in hurt and humiliation.


Employment team


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