7 February 2024
Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: unacceptable workplace behaviour, mental health leave and missing superannuation.
The chairman of my company has inappropriately touched me, and I have seen him act aggressive towards other women, including those in HR. I have confidentially approached another director on our board, and she told me that she and another female director have had similar experiences. She feels powerless to raise this with other board members because they always excuse his behaviour in meetings. Morale is impacted and women don’t feel safe. I’m concerned I’ll lose my job if I make a complaint externally. What options do we have?
The harassment and bullying you and others have experienced is completely unacceptable, illegal and needs to stop. Not only that but the board and senior leaders of the organisation are breaking the law by not acting immediately. Under new laws passed in 2023, your employer has a positive duty to prevent sexual harassment – not just after the event – but even before it happens. The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) and Chief Executive Women (CEW) both have excellent resources available on how this new law impacts boards.
The two female directors are in the best position to call a meeting of the board, without the chair, and provide a detailed account of the allegations being made by you, themselves and any others. They should invite outside legal counsel to be present at the board meeting to advise the board on their obligations. At any point, if you would like further confidential advice, you can contact the Fair Work Commission or the Human Rights Commission.
My partner is currently on indefinite leave due to his mental health. He has provided medical certificates from his GP and is struggling to return to work due to workplace bullying and managerial incompetence. My partner’s workers compensation claim for stress and anxiety was rejected; however, he has remained on unpaid sick leave, as approved by his GP. He has received texts, emails and calls from HR expressing concern regarding his absence. The thought of speaking directly to anyone from work causes him distress. Is he obliged to respond? He has used all his sick leave and annual leave. He is a union member but refuses to contact them. What should he do?
The best advice for your partner will depend on what he might like to see happen. Would he like to return to his employer, but perhaps under a different manager or in a new area of the business, away from the environment where he felt bullied? Would he like more time away from work, so he can get well before returning? Or is he thinking about taking legal action against his employer for bullying? I think once your partner understands what his goals are, that might help in understanding the best next steps.
While your partner says he is reluctant to approach his union, I think getting in touch could be valuable. His union can help him work through the various issues he is facing and potentially help him understand the best course of action.
At my son’s first job, his payslip indicated he was being paid the correct amount of superannuation. However, after he was made redundant we discovered no payments had been made. The ATO have investigated and confirmed that he does not have all of his superannuation outstanding from this employer. But each time he rings the ATO for an update they advise they are still looking into it and cannot provide further details. Is there anything else we can do?
Unfortunately, there are far too many cases of unscrupulous employers engaging in wage theft. The ATO is the correct entity to be investigating what has happened, and it sounds like, while slow, the process is underway. You may find that there are many other employees from this entity in the same situation as your son and the ATO is working out his arrangements as part of a much larger action against the employer. I suspect the amount of unpaid superannuation for the year on your son’s salary could end up being much less than the amount it would cost to engage your own legal team and is unlikely to speed the process along. Unfortunately, it sounds like patience will be needed but hopefully the unpaid superannuation will be paid in due course.
To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit kirstinferguson.com/ask (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).