Survey reveals 'unfair'  investigation processes must be improved

We would like to sincerely thank those who participated in our Workplace Investigations Survey, which ran from December 2022 to January 2023. We were overwhelmed by the response, with over 600 members taking the time to provide valuable feedback. 

Your input has proven invaluable to ASMOF as we continue working with the Ministry to review a suite of misconduct and complaints management policies. One area of particular concern for us is the lack of available step-by-step processes for complaints handling. We believe it is crucial to address any shortcomings in the current processes and ensure they are appropriately managed across all sites. 

One respondent to our survey said:  

"No open disclosure, no feedback provided, and no proper interviews not conducted. The investigation was run by management with a bias agenda who did not know difference between a grievance and formal harassment complaint".

ASMOF NSW President, Dr Tony Sara said:  

"The health system needs robust processes that remain fair to all concerned to manage issues arising from interactions between staff and between staff and patients…. Our role as a union is to ensure that the processes are fair both in principle and practice, adhere to principles of natural justice, and support all concerned." 

The results of the survey are concerning, with a significant 79% of respondents expressing dissatisfaction with the management of the investigatory process. Numerous individuals provided detailed accounts of instances where workers were seemingly denied procedural fairness during the investigation process. 

In addition, our analysis of the data showed that women and senior staff were disproportionately represented in the category of 'very poor' to 'poor' experiences of the grievance management process. 

To the question 'Overall how was the whole process managed?', the most common response was 'poor' (38%), followed by 'very poor':

Women were more likely to report very poor experiences, with 38% of female workers reported 'very poor', compared to 23% of male workers.  Gender differences also emerged in responses to questions on information provision and confidentiality requirements:

Differences also emerged between seniors and doctors in training, with 33% of Senior workers reporting a 'very poor' experience overall,  compared with 36% of DiTs who said 'poor' (none indicated 'very poor').   Seniors were also more likely to be engaged in longer grievance processes:

The following extract from the survey best summarises the range of issues highlighted by respondents,   

"The investigation did not facilitate the employee seeking independent advice and representation. A support person was not enough to protect the rights of the employee to natural justice. It also meant that the investigators did not put to the employee what was alleged to have happened (other than in very vague general terms). This created a situation where the employee had to guess, and inevitably gave a different emphasis to their responses than would otherwise have been possible if they had known what they were responding to." 

Likewise, many of the experiences detailed in the survey fell short of the CORE values espoused by the Ministry, which were designed to promote and inspire positive interactions in the workplace. 

"Was very uncomfortable and uneasy. As it was an investigation into a complaint against a colleague/senior (and I was involved in the incident central to the complaint), felt like a witch-hunt against my senior. While these processes are necessary and will never be pleasant, the strict confidentiality made it impossible to use usual supports, and the 'access to a support person' was impractical without guidance as to who this support person could be." 

These results highlight the urgent need for improvement in the management of the grievance process to ensure that all employees receive fair and equitable treatment. 

ASMOF remains committed to working closely with our members and the Ministry to enhance current policies surrounding complaints and workplace grievances and ensure that all employees are treated with the respect and fairness they deserve. One of our main priorities is to review and implement best practice procedural fairness models that can be applied throughout NSW Health, ensuring that these processes operate at the highest standard. 

Additionally, we believe that it is crucial to address unjust or vexatious claims, particularly those related to workplace bullying. This includes implementing appropriate consequences for those who make such claims.