We recently reported that the Education Sector has the second-highest rate of stress claims. Stress in schools may come from many places, but some of the avoidable sources of stress are the issues that may arise from the behaviour of colleagues. For example; bullying.
We have partnered with Workplace Behaviour Consulting group LS Partners to detail in this article four key tips that every school principal should take, to avoid an incident of stress amongst staff becoming a workplace heath and safety (WHS) claim.
For a principal, your staff's behaviour is important,as in addition to your duty to ensure their health and safety at work, you have a duty to ensure that teachers are dedicating their time to the classroom, rather than to outside issues. As the manager of a school, you should also be aware that unresolved interpersonal conflicts can lead to:
- a breach of your WHS obligations;
- a WorkCover stress claim;
- a civil court claim for damages;
- an investigation or prosecution by Fair Work Australia; and/or
- an investigation or prosecution by WorkSafe.
While each school will have its own WHS policies and procedures for dealing with workplace behaviour, principals should always ensure that they are reasonable and appropriate.
Here are the four key tips for managing workplace behaviour from Dominic Lallo, Senior Legal Counsel at LS Partners:
1. Set and maintain policy and expectations.
Clear expectations about responsibilities and obligations are the first measures to take in managing your staff. This is done by setting and implementing clear policies and procedures. Staff at all levels should be aware of their duty to remain alert to, and monitor, report and intervene where unacceptable behaviour is observed. The key benefit of this step is the early and quick resolution of workplace issues before they develop into greater problems.
The case of Amanda Kosteski and Comcare  AATA 217 demonstrates how important this step is. In that case an employee's mental injury was found to have been contributed to by bullying and harassment in the workplace. The Tribunal remarked that 'nobody appears to have taken responsibility at the appropriate time for assisting an employee who was showing clear signs of distress. Action was taken by Centrelink to address the problem subsequently but by that stage the damage had been done'.
By properly training your staff, many issues can be avoided before they turn into problems.
2. Act immediately when unacceptable behaviour is reported
Delay compounds problems in the workplace. If you fail to act on a report of unacceptable behaviour, you may leave a staff member in a stressful situation and further exacerbate the problem. It is important for principals to promptly:
- acknowledge the complaint;
- ascertain the details of the complaint from the staff member;
- inform the parties to the complaint about the issues, and the options to resolve the complaint;
- if necessary, appoint a person to act as an investigator, conciliator or mediator;
- create a report; and
- finalise the outcome.
3. Manage the process
It is important to remember that often the process can be as important as the outcome. Whether a staff member's complaint is substantiated or not, he or she may be satisfied if his or her grievance has at least been taken through a process. Managing the process includes informing parties as to when:
- the investigation will be completed;
- they will be advised of the findings;
- they will be able to return to their usual duties; and
- the outcome will be implemented.
Crucially, if an internal complaint escalates into a formal complaint against the school, principals must be able to show that they have fulfilled their duty to act fairly and reasonably.
4. Keep records
It is prudent to keep updated and accurate records. The best records are those that are created contemporaneously. Good records also allow schools to manage risks, and to report and improve on their policies and procedures. With the right processes and records in place, a principal may also efficiently discharge his or her duties without detracting from the most important duties at a school - managing the learning and welfare of students.
Proper processes and policies are a reasonable and prudent step in managing issues of workplace behaviour. With such high rates of stress amongst teachers, principals should be acutely aware of the need to manage the risk of mental injury to teachers.
For those readers who would like to have a better understanding of their WHS obligations please refer to CompliSpace’s WHS Schools Whitepaper.