Workplace Bullying Series – Part 4: Obligations to the complainant


In any bullying complaint there are at least three parties involved: the complainant (the person raising the complaint) the respondent (the alleged ‘bully’) and the employer.  In this article, we focus on employers’ obligations to employees who have raised an allegation of bullying – from the moment the complaint is received and beyond.


Consider the complaint with an open mind

Any bullying or harassment complaint received must be treated seriously.  In our previous article, we detailed some practical steps managers can take when they receive a complaint.  It is important that an employer considers the complaint with an open mind and in line with any relevant workplace policies before taking action.

Provide a safe and healthy workplace at all times

Upon receiving a complaint, and throughout a process relating to that complaint, the employer’s obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace continues and should underpin every decision they make.  When it comes to the complainant in a bullying situation, this includes:


Follow relevant workplace procedures

As a starting point, employers have an obligation to follow the process set out in their policies, handbooks and employment agreements.  These processes are established to ensure complaints are dealt with fully and appropriately.


In the absence of any relevant policies, employers must follow a fair and reasonable process in all the circumstances.  The process will vary depending on the unique facts of each case, so we recommend engaging with your legal advisor at an early stage to map out the process – and plan for any contingencies.


Communicate with the employee regarding the process that will be followed

Let the employee know the steps you are proposing to take to resolve their complaint.  These steps will often require their agreement.  If you are proposing to conduct an internal or independent investigation into their complaint, ensure complainants are:


Communicate throughout the process

Though an employer may not be able to provide specific updates throughout the process because they need to balance obligations to others, courtesy updates throughout the process with guides of timing are recommended.


Communicate any investigation findings

The complainant is entitled to know the factual findings of an employer’s investigation.  However, an employer should carefully consider how this information is communicated.  An employee will not be entitled to know whether any disciplinary action has been taken against the respondent.


An employer may also determine that it is necessary to make changes which prevent future bullying occurring.  If these changes impact the complainant’s employment, the employer has an obligation to consult the complainant first.


When a complainant is unhappy with the employer’s response  

If an employee considers their employer has inadequately or improperly dealt with their complaint, additional avenues are available to them including:

These claims are often costly for employers to resolve, even before they reach litigation.  Get in touch with the team at Black Door Law for tailored advice on rights and obligations of complainants in workplace bullying matters and guidance from the moment of receiving a bullying complaint to its resolution.


Disclaimer:  This information is intended as general legal information and does not constitute legal advice.  If you have a specific issue and wish to discuss it, get in contact with the Black Door Law team.

This article is part of a 6 part series on Workplace Bullying, our other articles in the series can be found in the following links:

Workplace Bullying – What is workplace bullying

Workplace Bullying – Prevention is better than cure

Workplace Bullying – What to do when you receive a workplace bullying complaint

Workplace Bullying – The forgotten person (obligations to the respondent)

Workplace Bullying – The impact of on modern workplace on workplace bullying