With the announcement of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, we are seeing a marked increase in complaints being made by aged care clients and their families.
There are many things to consider when responding to a complaint. However, one issue that we are turning our minds to more and more is the health and safety of employees.
It’s not uncommon for a person to be stressed, frustrated, angry or upset by the time they decide to make a complaint. Indeed they may have every right to feel that way. However, our concern is where a complainant takes out those emotions on the employees they encounter throughout the complaints management process.
We have seen instances of employees being sworn at, shouted at, and accused of incompetency and corruption. We have also seen complainants bombard employees with emails and phone calls, make repetitive complaints about the same issue, and issue unreasonable demands about how their complaint should be managed and resolved.
All of this behaviour has the very real potential of causing harm to an employee’s mental health.
Organisations will be aware of their duties under workplace health and safety legislation to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their employees. In fact, all persons at a workplace (including employees, clients, contractors and visitors) have a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that their behaviour does not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons, and to comply with any reasonable instructions given by the employer.
Repeated unreasonable behaviour by a complainant towards an employee, which creates a risk to the employee’s health and safety, may also meet the definition of bullying under the Fair Work Act. The Commission has confirmed that its jurisdiction is not limited to bullying between employees – it extends to any bullying that takes place while the victim is at work. The Commission has a broad power to order employers and third parties to prevent further bullying.
With this in mind, and with the Royal Commission on the horizon, perhaps the time is ripe to consider whether your organisation’s complaint management policies, processes and training adequately contemplate the need to safeguard the health and safety of staff, and whether your employees are equipped to deal with challenging behaviour by complainants.
CRH Law can assist with all aspects of resident complaints or the development of policies and procedures to ensure the issues raised in this article are adequately addressed.
Alice brings to CRH Law a passion for working with the not-for-profit sector, especially in relation to employment law and the complex legal and human issues that arise during the growth of successful community business organisations.