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The case of Amy Taeuber, the former cadet journalist at Channel 7, highlights the importance of having solid, legally compliant HR processes and HR policies in place when handling human resources complaints.

Ms Taeuber made a formal sexual harassment complaint against an older male colleague. She complained that an older male reporter made a series of comments about her appearance, made disparaging remarks about her marital status and called her a lesbian.

Ms Taeuber brought Lesley Johns (Chief of Staff) along with her to the investigation meeting as her support person. However, Ms Johns was asked to leave the room immediately, as human resources stated that the matter was confidential. Under section 387 of the Fair Work Act 2009, a criterion for considering harshness when it comes to unfair dismissals is whether a request to have a support person was “unreasonably refused”.

While Channel Seven Human Resources may maintain their refusal was not unreasonable, in that it was they arguably failed to take into account the full circumstances – including that they were dealing with a younger female cadet, and that a support person would be particularly valuable to this employee to help them deal with the emotion of an investigative meeting.

Top tips for dealing with support people:

● In most circumstances, it is good practice to inform employees that they may bring a support person, and not refuse any employee’s request to have a support person present. However, the Fair Work Act 2009 only requires a company not unreasonably refuse an employee’s request for a support person.

● The role of the support person should be clearly indicated to them. That is, to provide emotional and moral support and to act as a witness to the interview, but not to advocate on behalf of the employee. Union officials might be shown some greater courtesy because of the trouble they can cause.

● In considering whether refusing a support person is reasonable or unreasonable, it is appropriate to take into account all the circumstances of the case. This includes considering the employee’s age, potential emotional reaction, position in the company, length of service, how much notice the employee was given of the meeting, and whether it is necessary to keep the matter confidential.

● Our biggest tip is to record everything that was said in the meeting, in case you need to defend yourself later.

Better HR offers HR policies, HR processes and compliance tools to help you deal with harassment complaints. We also have a team of experienced and professional HR experts that can conduct workplace investigations on your behalf, or alternatively provide verbal or written guidance to assist you in conducting the investigation yourself through our advisory services. To achieve best-practice HR in this area, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Contact Better HR