Returning to the office and workplace complaints

As a workplace investigator I am seeing a upsurge in complaints of bullying and sexual harassment that could be attributed to  employees forgetting the rules and expectations of the workplace and not being used to a higher level of interpersonal contact.

“For the last two years the kids have been stuck inside, now they’re going back to the playground they seem to have forgotten how to play nice.”

It is also important to remember that employees who were hired during the pandemic may never have been to your office and may never have interreacted with the other employees.

Complaints that I am seeing seem to be based;

  • Interpersonal disputes
  • Inappropriate comments of a bullying and sexually harassing manner
  • Unwanted questions about an employee’s personal life
  • Inappropriate & unwanted jokes of a sexual nature
  • Inappropriate & unwanted interactions and touching

In addition when it comes to complaints against managers it has been due to;

  • Poor communications
  • Higher or different expectations that maybe weren’t there when people were WFH
  • Interpersonal and management style issues

Add to this employees may be under increased stress that they didn’t have when WFH including;

  • Increased travel times and being stuck in capital city traffic
  • Increased costs including petrol (especially at present) tolls, parking & public transport
  • Family needs, juggling childcare, school pick up and drop off
  • Ongoing Covid fears
  • Issues associated with the increased cost of living

All of these things can lead to frayed nerves, increased interpersonal conflicts and poor behaviours.

Lessons for employers

  • Be patient, there may be some teething problems
  • Listen to you employees if they raise concerns about re adjusting to life in the office
  • Conduct training to ensure that all our employees understand what bullying and sexual harassment are and what the behavioural expectations of your organisation are
  • Make sure your polices are up to date to ensure that they are supported by your training


When was the last time you conducted workplace bullying or sexual harassment training?

How do you know if NOW is the time?

  • If it hasn’t been done in the past 12 months
  • If your employee are returning to the office
  • If you’ve had new employees come on board in the past 2 years
  • If you have had incidences of bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace
  • If remedial action is requeued in the case of complaints
  • If you haven’t done training since the Respect@Work report 2020 was published.
  • If you haven’t done training since the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 was enacted (September 2021) More info from the Fair Work Commission – here

Conducting workplace bullying, sexual harassment and misconduct training is part of you as an employer taking all reasonable and proportionate steps to ensure that you satisfy your duty of care.

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