Complaints due diligence


Ignorance is never a good defense

Workplace compliance is becoming more complex in Australia, as the regulatory landscape continues to evolve and new laws and regulations are introduced.

There are a number of factors contributing to this complexity. 

  1. Increasing Number of Regulations: There has been a proliferation of laws and regulations in recent years, covering everything from workplace health and safety to anti-discrimination, privacy, and data protection. Keeping up with these regulations and ensuring compliance can be a challenge for many organisations.

  2. Heightened Regulatory Scrutiny: Regulators are becoming more proactive in enforcing workplace compliance, with tougher penalties for non-compliance. This means that organisations need to be more diligent in their compliance efforts and ensure they have robust compliance systems in place.

  3. Growing Emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility: There is a growing expectation that businesses operate in a socially responsible and sustainable manner. This includes complying with workplace laws and regulations, as well as addressing issues such as diversity and inclusion, ethical sourcing, and environmental sustainability.

  4. Rapid Technological Change: Technological advances are changing the way we work, and this is creating new compliance challenges. For example, the use of social media and cloud computing has raised new privacy and data protection issues, while the rise of the gig economy has blurred the lines between employees and independent contractors.

 To stay compliant, organisations need to be vigilant, keep up with regulatory changes, and have robust compliance systems in place.

One of the most important compliance systems is with regards to internal complaints handling. The regulatory and legal change from leaders responding to negative behaviour to having a ‘positive duty’ for employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sexual harassment, harassment on the grounds of sex, hostile workplace environments and victimisation is a significant issue for directors, owners, and managers.

Recommendations for managers and directors

‘For managers and directors, the impact of this changed approach means that it is critical that they personally make sure the organisation has systems in place to eliminate harassment and that the culture is supportive of receiving complaints and investigating them promptly and fairly for all parties.

‘Building better communication about harassment and avenues of support are matters of priority. Ensuring training is undertaken by everyone in the organisation, including contractors and other third parties, and that the training is regular, up-to-date and effective is equally critical. Using HR tools such as organisational and culture surveys (more than your online out of the box survey tools), focus sessions and confidential whistle-blower arrangements are also important proactive tools.’

Researcher and author, of Australia’s Boardroom Psychological Safety Benchmark, Carolyn Grant, said this isn’t about having a culture of compliance. If organisations were committed to building and maintaining work environments of  psychological safety – founded on respect and trust and permission to contribute,  we would never have need of a law that tells people “you should respect your fellow workers”. However, as a result of poor behaviour being excused and lacking any accountability or consequences, human rights activists have had to influence law makers and now we have laws enforcing good behaviour.  As a result we need to ensure that we have compliance processes in place such as policies and procedures that actually align but more importantly we need to understand what is going on in our organisations. Unfortunately, the level of mistrust of employees due to poor policies and actions in the past makes it necessary and recommended to get external providers in to work with organisations. 


Seven benefits to a good complaints process

  1. Improved Employee Satisfaction: A good complaints process can help to improve employee satisfaction by providing a safe and confidential space for employees to voice their concerns and be heard.

  2. Better Employee Retention: When employees feel that their concerns are being taken seriously and addressed, they are more likely to stay with the organisation and be committed to their work.

  3. Increased Employee Engagement: A good complaints process can encourage employees to become more engaged in their work and the organisation as a whole, as they feel valued and heard. With employee disengagement measuring at 80% good feedback mechanisms are critical. In many organisations leaders perceive their processes to be very good with regards to feedback loops (77%) but only 13% of employees believe this to be true. (People Plus Science Psychological Safety Benchmark)

  4. Enhanced Organisational Learning: By addressing employee complaints, organisations can learn from their mistakes and make improvements to their policies and procedures.

  5. Improved Organisational Culture: An effective complaints process can promote a positive organisational culture by demonstrating that the organisation values its employees and takes their concerns seriously. In the People Plus Culture Psychological Safety Benchmark, the majority employees rated organisations responsiveness to feedback as “unsatisfactory”.

  6. Reduced Legal Liability: A good complaints process can help to reduce the organisation’s legal liability by providing a mechanism for employees to report concerns and grievances without fear of retaliation.

  7. Enhanced Reputation: By demonstrating that they take employee complaints seriously and are committed to addressing them, organisations can enhance their reputation as a responsible and ethical employer.


Characteristics of a good internal complaints process

A good complaint process will be:

  • Fair – This means that both the person complaining (the complainant) and the person being complained about (the respondent) should have the opportunity to present their version of events, provide supporting information and respond to any potential negative decisions. In addition, the person investigating and/or making decisions about the complaint should be impartial; that is, he or she should not favour the complainant or the respondent or prejudge the complaint in any way.
  • Confidential – This means that information about a complaint is only provided to those people who need to know about it, in order for the complaint to be actioned properly.
  • Transparent – The complaint process and the possible outcomes of the complaint should be clearly explained and those involved should be kept informed of the progress of the complaint and the reasons for any decisions.
  • Accessible – The complaint process should be easy to access and understand, and everyone should be able to participate equally. For example, an employee may require a language interpreter to understand and participate or a person with a disability may need information provided in a specific format.
  • Efficient – The complaint process should be conducted without undue delay. As time passes, information relevant to the complaint may deteriorate or be lost, which will impact on the fairness of the process. In addition, unresolved complaints can have a negative and ongoing impact on a workplace. 

A good complaint process will also include provisions to:

  • protect employees from being victimised because they have made a complaint
  • protect employees from vexatious and malicious complaints
  • ensure appropriate confidential records are kept about complaints and that this information is stored and managed appropriately. 

“A good complaints process is not just about handling grievances, it’s about building trust and engagement with your employees.” – Unknown

“A good complaints process is not just about handling grievances, it’s about building trust and engagement with your employees.” – Unknown

A good employee complaints process can help to improve employee satisfaction, retention, engagement, organisational learning, culture, legal liability, and reputation. 

Ignorance is not a defense, ensure you understand and have tested the validity of your internal complaints processes.


To help the introduction of the new Respect@Work laws, Chief Executive Women (CEW) have developed the Respect is Everyone’s Business resource. This is designed to help empower boards and executive leadership teams to implement the positive duties across the organisations.

And the Federal Government has created a Respect@Work portal, providing a range of online resources to help stop workplace sexual harassment.


See section 57 of the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth) and section 123 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth).

See section 106 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) and section 18A of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

See discussion of Johanson v Blackledge (2001) 163 FLR 58, 82 [105] in Federal Discrimination Law Online, Australian Human Rights Commission, 2011; available at

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