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Case study: Staff too intimidated to raise bullying complaints

The Situation

The CEO of our client in a smaller rural town had the aunt of a younger outdoor worker complain about the actions of two employees who had allegedly visited her nephew late one night and verbally abused him, among other actions.

Yet the younger worker and others who claim they had been intimidated and threatened over the past 12 months by the two employees refused to lodge complaints with their employer, claiming they feared for the safety of themselves, their property ie cars & homes, and families.

The Task

The objective of O’Connell Workplace Relations was to facilitate the receipt of complaints and any supporting evidence from staff, including the young worker, about the two employees.

Establishing confidence with staff that they could raise their issues with an independent investigator was critical for the matter going ahead and achieving a fair and objective outcome.


O’Connell Workplace Relations investigators arranged an initial day at a discrete location away from the main employer office to interview the aunt of the young worker and a number of his supervisors.

Phone contact was made with the aunt and assurances given that confidentiality of her evidence would be the highest priority – with all notes and recordings to be retained by O’Connell Workplace Relations and her comments if recorded in the investigation report to be in redacted (or de-identified) format. Following this initial phone contact, the young worker indicated he was also willing to come forward if similar conditions applied to him.

After the interviews conducted with supervisors and managers, word of mouth based on confidence with the investigation interview process meant that a number of other workers (who had previously been reluctant to come forward with evidence) felt confident to meet the investigators at their following visit to the town.

Results for the client

An independent investigation was able to be completed based on the complaints of the young worker and other staff of the employer as well as extensive evidence provided by employees who had previously been reticent about coming forward.

The two employees with allegations against them were interviewed with their union representatives present and in the report provided by O’Connell Workplace Relations, a number of the allegations have been found to be proven.

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