Let's talk about natural justice...

We have all seen the blaring headlines, the claims and counter-claims about whether Robert Doyle, as the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, has received Natural Justice in the workplace investigation regarding sexual harassment allegations against him.

Leaving aside the specific conduct of this case, one thing that has not actually been discussed is, what is Natural Justice??? And I want to specifically talk about what is Natural Justice in relation to a workplace investigation. 

In essence, Natural Justice is a set of principles that are applied to ensure that all people involved in a workplace investigation are given a fair opportunity to be heard, to put their case and to respond to relevant matters raised. 

These principles include:

  • There should not be a perception of nor actual bias during the investigation process
  • Employees should be treated equally
  • Any person involved should receive adequate notice and detail of any allegation
  • Any person involved should be provided a genuine opportunity to respond to the allegations including:
  • all the circumstances that should be taken into account by the decision maker
  • any mitigating circumstances
  • Any person involved should be provided the right to have an appropriate support person present
  • All investigations should involve an impartial investigator and an impartial decision-maker
  • Any decision should be supported by substantiation or reasons

This also includes managing the impact on individuals' reputations during the course of the investigation. In the workplace, this often involves managing discretion, confidentiality and workplace chatter. Something that is almost impossible to achieve in a high profile case like the Lord Mayor.

It is inescapable that when conducting an investigation, they will have a major impact on the lives and well-being of those involved. And usually, the biggest impact comes from participants’ personal view about what is a fair process and has this been applied. 

Whether Natural Justice in a formal sense has been provided or not the investigation must be handled sensitively as separately, both the process and outcome can have wide-ranging impacts on the individuals.

And that ‘fairness gauge’ is different for everybody, it depends on such things as:

  • life experiences
  • workplace experiences (have they been dealing with this matter for a week or 3years!?!?!)
  • perceptions of power
  • what has happened with other people in similar circumstances
  • what they think should happen
  • current stress levels
  • and many many more…

 As The Zalt Group works in the ‘real world’ and are held to account by Courts, Tribunals, Commissions etc, we need to understand and have an intimate knowledge of what Natural Justice actually is and how it is applied.

As we hold ourselves accountable to our clients and of course the individuals involved, we need to properly understand the factors that shape what participants feel is ‘fair’ and help our clients provide mechanisms for dealing with these perceptions. We are keenly aware that when the investigation is over there are real people who have to deal with the consequences.

Do your people understand and have the necessary skill to both apply Natural Justice and provide ‘perceived’ fairness to those affected by an investigation?

If you enjoyed reading this blog, you might also like:

Why Investigate?

An investigation in the balance

Why the allegations matter?

To Investigate or not to investigate... that is the question



The Zalt Group works with individuals & organisations who want to restore and strengthen workplace relationships.

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