Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying in the Workplace Anti Corruption Consultants Blog

Bullying in the Workplace – An In Depth Overview

Not so long ago bullying in the workplace was seen as a sport in some Australian work places. Employees were subjected to “pranks” disguised as initiation rites. These varied from physical abuse to mental abuse to ridiculing employees.

These pranks should no longer be tolerated! However, there is still a belief, in some areas, they are “only harmless fun”. The psychological harm will affect employees and your firm will suffer reputational damage when matters are reported in the media and you face a court.

The employer has an obligation to prevent bullying in the workplace. You must take reasonable care to ensure behaviour in the workplace does not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons.

The Australian Human Rights Commission claimed (2015) workplace bullying cost the Australian economy up to $36 billion each year. The average cost of each case amounting to $17,000-$24,000 for employers.

There are also substantial legal penalties under Occupational Health and Safety legislation across various jurisdictions.

Bullying has an indirect of profitability – it affects:

  • Higher absenteeism and turnover of staff
  • Lower morale
  • Decreased productivity
  • Legal and workers’ compensation claims
  • Costs of internal or external investigations
  • Loss of productivity my managers who have to address issues flowing from the behaviour.

What is Workplace Bullying?

Workplace Bullying ACCA

Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour towards a worker or group of workers. The conduct creates a risk to health and safety.

The behaviour must be repeated. This infers a “one-off” incident should be disregarded as it is not, according to the definition, “bullying”.

The conduct may be against a worker or a group of workers, The conduct must create a risk to health and safety.

While a single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not considered workplace bullying, it is important to take appropriate action if there are any instances of inappropriate or disrespectful behaviour. This action is required to prevent any escalation. A record must be kept of any intervention in such circumstances.

Role of the employer

The employer MUST provide a workplace that is safe and without risks to health. This requires the employer to provide and maintain appropriate work systems. This is reinforced by legislation across Australia.

The employer should know the potential for workplace bullying and implement the appropriate policies and training procedures to control the risk.

You should involve employees when developing policies. Legislation may require involvement of employees in workplace health and safety committees.

It is recognised prevention is the best way to prevent bullying in the workplace.

Preventive Measures

Developing a strong workplace culture

This is a significant factor in preventing bullying. A strong positive culture sets the standards and conduct in the workplace. While everyone in the workplace contributes to culture, management has a greater influence and responsibility to establish a positive culture in the workplace.

Setting standards and establishing agreed values.

Employers are obligated under Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation to provide a safe workplace. They must, as far as reasonably practicable, ensure there are no risks to physical health and safety or psychological trauma.

Employers should clearly outline expected values and standards of behaviour to provide a safe environment. This can be in an agreed standard (code of conduct) or specific policies targeting bullying. Employees should, where appropriate, assist to develop these policies.

The acceptance of such policies will assist in reducing incidents of bullying.

Effective leadership

There must be a commitment at all managerial and supervisory levels to prevent and respond to workplace bullying.

Effective leadership will, by example and action, reduce the potential for workplace bullying. Leaders must train employees and lead by example.

Strong leadership is required when any incidents occur.

Workplace policies and procedures addressing bullying

Workplace Bullying - Harassment - Policies

Employers should consult with employees to develop and implement a workplace policy and procedure to address workplace bullying. This will ensure a consistent approach within the company to prevent and respond to any incidents of workplace bullying.

This policy would set the standards of expected behaviour in the workplace. It would also reinforce that bullying behaviour would not be tolerated.

Workplace bullying policy

The policy should take a guiding approach by outlining how everyone should behave and be treated at work. It should also incorporate a preventive approach clearly outlining what behaviour would not be tolerated.

The policy could be a standalone document or incorporated into the code of conduct.

The policy should be developed in conjunction with the employees using an Occupational Health & Safety committee approach where appropriate.

What should be in the policy

The policy should include:

  • A statement from management outlining a commitment to providing employees with a healthy and safe working environment.
  • Identification of the expected standard of behaviour from all employees.
  • Examples regarded as workplace bullying, and examples of appropriate managerial oversight.
  • If appropriate, address the various methods of communication that may be used including personal text messages, emails, and social media.
  • A section on how an employee can report incidents of workplace bullying with a reference to support programs to help the reporting parties.
  • A commitment from management to treat reports of workplace bullying seriously.
  • Information on how management would respond reports indicating impartiality and confidentiality where appropriate.
  • How reports would be investigated.
  • Highlight what action may be taken if the reports are substantiated.
  • Where employees can get more information about workplace bullying.

Promoting the Policy

The policy should be promoted and communicated all employees. This should include posters on notice boards, a regular topic on team meetings, advice on intranet pages, and regular discussion with employees.

All employees should receive a copy of the policy on induction. It should also be incorporated as a topic or specific training program at least every 12 months.

The policy should be regularly reviewed.

Encourage reporting

Employees will report instances of bullying if they are confident the organisation will address these reports in line with the bullying policy.

The policy and any promotional material clearly outlines the reporting structure. Employees should be assured the reports will be considered and treated as confidential where appropriate.

Employees should be encouraged to report any incidents as this would allow the employee to take urgent action to address any issues so they do not escalate. The employer can also determine whether their prevention methods are effective.

Reporting will also allow employers to provide prompt assistance and support to employees to mitigate any ongoing stress-related issues.

Transparency

The employer should be transparent when addressing instances of workplace bullying. This may include advice to employees as to what action they took in relation to allegations workplace bullying. It is important to acknowledge the need for confidentiality when promoting this action.

General information can be provided as part of any regular communication process across the organisation. This information may include:

  • The number of reports received
  • The number of reports resolved
  • Time taken to complete investigations
  • Whether the investigation was conducted internally or externally
  • The general nature of the outcome of the investigations (be conscious of the need to maintain confidentiality where appropriate).

Training within the workplace

Workplace Bullying and Harassment Training

Occupational Health & Safety legislation highlights the responsibilities of an employer to provide information, instruction, training, and supervision to all employees to ensure they work in a way that is safe without risks to health.

This includes information relating to workplace bullying. It is important supervisors are fully aware of what comprises as workplace bullying and their obligations to address any identified issues within the workplace. You may be required as the employer to provide specific training in this area to all supervisors and managers.

Induction

Induction must include information about workplace bullying, including relevant policies and procedures.

Induction training should be provided to permanent employees, casuals, contractors, and volunteers. Labour hire personnel and visitors should know polices relating to bullying in the work place.

Training

It is important training is provided to all employees. This training should be comprehensive with an emphasis on what comprises workplace bullying and what action should be taken if the employee witnesses the conduct or is a victim of workplace bullying.

The training should also emphasise the expected standards of behaviour in the workplace.

Supervisors/Managers should receive targeted training highlighting their responsibility to ensure a safe workplace. This training should include:

  • Role of communication – how to communicate with various parties
  • Managing the “difficult conversation” about workplace bullying
  • Providing formal and informal constructive feedback to all parties
  • Monitor and address potential issues leading to workplace bullying
  • Conflict resolution to address potential issues
  • What action to take if a report is made

Impact of Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying can affect people in many ways. It can lead to:

  • Distress, anxiety, panic attacks or sleep disturbance
  • Physical illness, such as muscular tension, headaches, and digestive problems
  • Reduced work performance
  • Loss of self-esteem and feelings of isolation
  • Deteriorating relationships with colleagues, family, and friends
  • Depression
  • Increased risk of suicide

Examples of workplace bullying

Workplace Harassment ACCA

Workplace bullying can include:

  • Abusive, insulting, or offensive language or comments (including belittling, demeaning, or patronising someone, especially in front of others)
  • Yelling or screaming at an employee
  • Unjustified or unreasonable criticism or complaints
  • Singling someone out and treating them differently from others
  • Withholding information, supervision, consultation, training, or resources deliberately to prevent someone doing their job
  • Setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines
  • Spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
  • Changing work arrangements, such as rosters and leave, to deliberately inconvenience someone
  • Setting tasks unreasonably below or above someone’s skill level
  • Humiliating, shouting at or threatening someone
  • Excluding someone from participating in activities relating to their work
  • Refusal to acknowledge contributions and achievements (such as discovering that a person’s work – and the credit for it – has been stolen or plagiarised)
  • Initiation or hazing – where someone is made to do humiliating or inappropriate things
  • Teasing or playing practical jokes
  • Refusing annual leave, sick leave, and especially compassionate leave without reasonable grounds
  • Playing mind games, ganging up or other psychological harassment
  • Intimidation (making someone feel less important and undervalued)
  • Undermining work performance by deliberately withholding information vital for effective work performance
  • Constant unconstructive criticism and/or nit-picking
  • Suppression of ideas
  • Overloading a person with work or allowing insufficient time for completion and criticising the employees work in relation to this
  • Utilisation of various social media platforms and emails

It is important to realise any physical contact such as pushing, shoving, tripping, or grabbing is an assault. These actions should be taken seriously and, where appropriate, reported to the police so there is a record of the conduct.

The same applies to any threatening behaviour or physical contact with a weapon of any description including tools or other weapons (knives, guns, clubs). This must be reported to the police.

What is not considered workplace bullying

While some work practices may appear unfair they are not regarded as bullying if the conduct falls within accepted work practices and are done reasonably.  

The following are examples of what is not considered as bullying if conducted reasonably.

  • Setting realistic and achievable performance goals, standards, and deadlines
  • Fair and appropriate rostering and allocating working hours 
  • Transferring someone to another area of the organisation/business or role for operational reasons
  • Deciding not to select a worker for promotion where a reasonable process is followed
  • Informing a person about their unsatisfactory work performance in an honest, fair, and constructive way
  • Informing someone of their unreasonable behaviour in an objective and confidential way
  • Implementing organisational changes or restructuring
  • Taking disciplinary action, including suspension, or terminating employment where appropriate or justified in the circumstances.

What can increase the risk of bullying in the workplace?

These factors can increase the potential for bullying in the workplace.

Work stressors

High job demands, limited job control, organisational change, role conflict, job insecurity, tolerating unreasonable behaviour or a lack of behavioural standards, unreasonable expectations of clients or customers.

These can lead to frustrations within the general workforce and management.

Leadership styles

An authoritarian leadership style does not allow for employee interaction. It is a “damn it – do it” approach with no guidance or advice.

The is a lack of formal delegation leading to more assertive employees taking an inappropriate oversight role.

Work systems

Inappropriate workplace practices, lack of resources or training can create stress in the workplace. Unreasonable key performance standards, unrealistic expectations or time frames will also lead to stress in the workplace.

The stress leads to issues on the floor resulting in bullying as a potential outlet to reduce it.

Work relationships

Relationship between employees is also a key factor. Poor communication between management and employees, and employees themselves is also another factor. Low levels of managerial support opens the door for bullying. Ongoing conflict will also lead to bullying.

Workforce personnel

Research highlights some employees are more at risk from workplace bullying. These include, but not necessarily limited, to apprentices, casual employees, younger employees, injured employees, or those returning to work after an injury.

Employees who lodged a complaint are also likely to be targeted on return to work.

Bullying is also associated with ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, or sexual preferences.

What should I do if I am bullied at work?

You need a record of what occurred. This is important if the matter is going to be followed up.

The record should include such details as:

  • Date and time of incident
  • What happened before the incident?
  • Details of the incident
    • What happened
    • Who was involved
    • What was said
    • Who said anything
  • Any witnesses
  • What occurred after the incident?
  • Where did the incident occur?
  • Was there any CCTV coverage?
  • Was there any damage to clothing?
    • If so, keep the clothing after the incident if possible. If not, photograph damage.
  • Were you injured in anyway (cuts, bruises)
    • Photographs where possible
    • If you had medical treatment then keep details of where and when treatment occurred. Who provided the treatment.
  • Note your feelings flowing from the incident
    • Were you upset?
      • If so – why?
    • Were you embarrassed?
      • If so – why?
  • Why do you believe the conduct was bullying.
  • You need to tell someone what happened. There may be a contact listed under occupational health and safety procedures.
  • If you are a member of the Union then consider speaking with your delegate.

Remember, bullying is repeated behaviour. Your records will support the repetition of the conduct.

The employer must provide you with a safe work environment free of bullying and harassment. If the firm takes no action then it would be appropriate to refer your complaint to the Union if you are a member.

Remember, if you believe you are in immediate danger then, if possible, leave the workplace. You should (if appropriate) ring 000 for police assistance.

If you believe the incident was serious and you feared for your safety then report the incident to the police. Conduct leading to you fearing for your safety may be assault. Police will take the appropriate action.

Summary

The onus is on management to ensure there is an effective policy and procedure to address workplace bullying. However, eliminating workplace bullying requires action from everyone in the workplace.

Employees must be courageous in addressing this issue. Bullies will sidestep preventive measures. They will also use more subtle ways to target people. Gradual ostracization or exclusion can erode the confidence of a person. The “pain” of this is not visible like a bruise or cut but it can eat away at the victim.

Bullies use social media and other subtle methods to target victims. A bully is normally an informal leader, others see his actions as non-harmful, just a “joke”. Get over it, it is all in fun and other comments lead to a further erosion of self confidence in the victim.

A failure to report incidents leads to an escalation as the bully gains further confidence in not being sanctioned for his/her actions. A failure by other workers to report the incidents means they are complicit in the bullying as if they were taking the action against the employee.

The company must act – a failure to do so will expose the company to litigation leading to penalties under legislation and in the civil jurisdiction.

What is Fraud?

What is Fraud?

Fraud occurs when a person misleads another person by word, actions, or document/s for that person to improperly benefit the person engaging in the fraudulent activity or to another person.

It is formally defined by the Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre as an action that dishonestly obtaining a benefit, or causing a loss, by deception or other means.
Benefit can be money, property, goods, shares, tickets – anything of value to a person.

A person must believe the representation and act on it to his/her benefit or detriment or to the benefit/detriment of a third party.

The Association of Certified Examiners (ACFE) recently estimated organisations would lose at least 5% of their revenue to fraud every year.

What drives a Fraudster?

In 1953, American criminologist Donald Cressy developed what is now known as the “Fraud Triangle” theory. He proposed three factors contribute to fraud and unethical behaviour in an organisation.

These were: Pressure, Opportunity, and Rationalisation.

Pressure

There is pressure on an individual causing him/her to commit the act. This pressure may not be readily identifiable but it will exist. It may include such things as lack of money, gambling debts, alcohol or drug addiction or other financial pressures (medical, education etc.). It is important to appreciate the trigger can also include pressure on friends or relations.

Greed linked to perceived injustice is also a trigger for fraud. The offender believes the company is not recognising his/her qualities, not paying enough, not promoting, or mistreating him/her.

Opportunity

There is an opportunity to commit the crime. This can be a temporary opportunity to commit the crime with little likelihood of being caught. It can also be a situation where a person in a particular position (accountant, asset manager, purchasing officer etc.) identifies lack of controls and exploits them. Generally, there will be a “testing of the waters” moment to see if their actions are noticed. The fraudulent act then increases as s/he believes they are not likely to be caught.

“Opportunity” is also linked to the ability of the offender to commit the crime.  Are they in a position to manipulate data, change records, produce false documentation? The capability of offender is sometimes incorporated into the fraud triangle theory to form a 4th category leading to the “Fraud Diamond” theory.

The offender can commit the fraud either through position/s (accounts) within the company or the knowledge (ability to manipulate computer data) of how to commit the crime.

Rationalisation

“I deserve this, I have worked hard for this company, I will pay it back, I only need a small amount”. These are all excuses flowing through the mind of the offender. There is “justification” for their actions.

Escalation of offending

The offender may “test” the system to see if anyone identifies the fraud. Generally, this is a small amount and the offender has an “excuse” ready if it is detected.

How do I detect fraud in my business?

Employees

You need to be vigilant for various changes in business practices and/or personal attitudes of key personnel.
These include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Person in key position (accountant, purchasing officer etc) refusing to share duties or to take leave.
  • Person in key position declining promotion or transfer – “I like this position. I am happy here”.
  • Person works longer hours than normal – last out (provides opportunity to change records without scrutiny).
  • A unwarranted change in suppliers at request of purchasing officer.
  • A refusal or reluctance to accept oversight measures (second signature, more transparency in purchasing and so on).
  • Skipping approval steps and/or not having segregation of duties in the procurement process.
  • Living a lifestyle not equitable to their renumeration, trips, gifts to other employees, expensive vehicles, and other obvious signs of wealth.
  • Providing excuses such as “death of a relative” to explain this increase in wealth.
  • Failing to keep accurate records including receipts for expenses.
  • Bullying colleagues especially when a person tries to review their actions.
  • Seeking access to areas when not entitled to access – this may be physical areas (store rooms, warehouse etc) or accessing areas within the accounting process (trying to change records!).
  • Ongoing evidence of shortage of cash, financial hardship.
  • Consistently seeking loans from other employees or advances on salary.
  • Addiction problems – drugs, gambling etc. Note this may be a relative or friend seeking help.
  • Significant personal stress linked to underlying need for increased funds.
  • A strong sense of entitlement – “I am the best thing for this company”. I deserve recognition.
  • Unhappy with employer or supervisors – rationalisation for actions.
  • Unusual “shrinkage” of inventory
  • Key documents not completed or are missing
  • Unusual payment including variations and, multiple actual or similar payments to same vendor/contractor
  • Creditors contacting and/or attending work site seeking a person.
  • Employee previously faced internal discipline (80% from ACFE survey).

High risk activities
These areas are linked to fraud within the company:

  • Management of vendors and accounts payable
  • Handling of cash payments
  • Reimbursement of travel and ancillary payments
  • Management of contracts – external providers, consultants, or projects
  • Privileged access to financial and/or purchasing records (Administrator status)
  • Procurement
  • Payment of invoices, receipt of goods, ordering of goods.
  • Access to payroll and other employee data
  • Fail to comply with approved vendor list or panel suppliers

How do I prevent fraud in my business?

You need a structured approach. There is a concept known as the “fraud control cycle”. This comprises of three distinct areas to consider when developing a fraud mitigation model. 

The first area is prevention. The policies and practices should provide guidance in reduction and elimination of fraud across your business. The 2020 ACFE Report to the Nations highlighted a lack of internal controls contributed to 1/3rd of reported frauds. 

However, there is always the potential for fraud to occur despite strong preventive measures. The second phase of the cycle is to develop practices linked to red flags appropriate for your industry. This will enable you to discover fraud before it causes too much harm to your company’s financial and reputational standing in the community.
The ACFE Report indicated a typical fraud case lasts 14 months before detection and causes a loss of A$11380 a month – Approximately A$159,000. 

The final phase in the cycle is “what am I going to do” if fraud is identified? The is the response phase. There should be a detailed response on what to do. How do I retain evidence? Whom do I approach? Do I commence an investigation? Do I stand the person down? Should I tell the police?

The monitoring of preventive measures linked with a documented approach to reporting will assist in controlling opportunities for fraud in your business.

Fraud Prevention

It is important to recognise the significance of preventive measures within your business.
One way to approach this is to consider the four points of the “fraud diamond”. These are: Pressure, opportunity, capability, and rationalisation.

Pressure
It may be difficult to assist with personal issues leading to “pressure” on the employee but you should encourage employees to seek assistance. An “open door” policy allows employees to discuss personal issues with no fear of repercussion. Referral facilities should be identified and this information provided to employees. An employee assistance program (EAP) is an excellent way to assist employees in times of stress.

Relieving this pressure can reduce to need to commit fraud.
Opportunity
Implementing policies, practices, and set procedures with cross checking reduces the opportunity to commit fraud.
ACCA can assist by assessing your security and fraud mitigation efforts. This assessment will assist you in developing and strengthening your fraud shield to protect you from financial and reputational damages from fraud.
Capability
You need to closely monitor areas where a person has access to your records – s/he can change financial records. You also have to demand segregation of duties. A single person should not approve a purchase, acknowledge receipt of goods or services, authorise payment, and update the asset register.

Also insist staff in key areas take leave – a red flag is a reluctance of offenders to allow other persons access to their operating areas.

Rationalisation
You must have a “zero tolerance” approach to fraud. If a person is identified then seek police assistance, dismiss the person, do not provide any form of recommendation for future employment. 

Ensure all employees know the fraud prevention policy including zero tolerance. Provide regular training for employees and suppliers. If a supplier is identified as participating then refuse to deal with the supplier. ACFE report indicated formal reporting processes resulted in a 56% greater likelihood of reports compared to 37% where there was no formal process.

Ensure you have a reporting mechanism to allow employees and suppliers to provide information on suspected fraudulent activity. This can be a hotline or similar reporting process. ACFE report highlighted 43% of fraud schemes were detected through tip-offs. Half of these tips were from employees. It also highlighted a telephone hotline and/or email were each used by whistle-blowers.

Basic preventative measures

Research indicates there are basic preventive measures for any business.

Basic preventative measures
Research indicates there are basic preventive measures for any business.
1. A code of conduct.
You need a code of conduct or a similar document to clearly outline expectations of behaviour within the business.
This need not be a lengthy document but should address the key areas of expected behaviour (respect, no bullying, no sexual harassment, compliance with policies etc).

The code of conduct should stress the need for integrity in all dealings with other employees, suppliers, customers, and the general community.

2. Policies/Procedures
These complement the code of conduct. They address specific areas such as procurement, fraud and corruption prevention, reporting of identified infringements, and other work practices. The latter may include specific instructions relating to work practices such as reimbursement of expenses, allowances, segregation of duties.

This should also include a “gifts and benefits” policy. Employees and suppliers need guidelines on what is regarded as a gift or a benefit. 

3. Training
It is pointless to have a code of conduct and other documentation if the employees and suppliers do not know about them. This means all new employees and suppliers must participate in training. This would occur at induction and throughout the year. There should be at least one training session for each employee and supplier (signed off as attending) per year. 

4. Conflict of interest
Maintain a conflict-of-interest register. This is essential for personnel involved in procurement. A conflict does not necessarily mean there can be no interaction. It means the conflict must be “managed” to ensure integrity.
If the conflict cannot be transparently managed then the employee must not be involved. 

5. Due Diligence
You must conduct due diligence on all new employees – make sure the information provided is correct. This is very important for persons in key positions (management, accounting, purchasing). Verify educational qualifications, insist on written recommendations, cross check any recommendations (social media is a great source). Make sure all certifications (CPA etc) are current.

Due diligence also extends to suppliers especially those contracted through a third-party agency. You need to verify office and factory addresses, banking details, location of banks, any other firms (where possible) conducting business with the supplier. 

Regular cross referencing of supplier details (bank, business, and personnel) against employee details is also important.
Audit of employee records will identify ghost employees left on payroll. You should also have a process to identify and verify any changes of banking details for employees and suppliers.

6. Segregation of duties

This is essential. You cannot have the same person approving a supplier, identifying a business need, authorising purchase, signing off on receipt of goods/service provided, authorising payment of invoice, and updating (where appropriate) the asset register. A failure to do this guarantees fraud will occur.
Purchasing officers must complete a conflict-of-interest declaration relating to all suppliers. This should extend to the family and/or associates of the supplier. 

7. Rotation of staff in key areas

This may be difficult but the rotation of personnel ensures no one is in a position for enough time to create a fraudulent scheme. It can also assist in identifying schemes because the new person is likely to identify anomalies in practices. 

8. Ad-hoc audits
Conduct ad-hoc audits to review payments, bank account details, employee records (ghost employees), cash handling.

Fraud Cases

$12 million Fraud

12 Million Concrete Supplier Fraud

Glenda Burgess was a “trusted account manager” for Adelaide Brighton Cement. She was found guilty of 18 offences between August 2009 and September 2017. 

The investigation identified no she derived no apparent benefit from the $12 million taken from the firm. A customer (Concrete Supply) benefited from her actions as they did not have to pay $12 million for goods supplied. 

She created false entries into the company’s ledger to favour Concrete Supply. The records indicated the customer received $32 million of supply but only paid around $20 million. She hid the underpayments by creating a false debtors report. She also increased the credit standing for Concrete Supply without approval and transferred debt away from the company to another customer. She allocated payments from other customers to benefit outstanding debt of Concrete Supply. 

Ms Burgess showed no contrition or remorse for her actions. Her actions caused substantial damage to the business reputation of Adelaide Brighton Cement. They lost several long-term customers.
Court records indicates she stole from a former employee. 

She was gaoled for seven (7) years. 

Comment
She remained in her position for at least eight (8) years. There was no apparent regular audit of invoices and supplier relationships. She had prior history of theft (lack of due diligence). 

Adelaide Brighton Cement received adverse media exposure because of her actions. This was to their detriment in the market place. 

Fraud Diamond – She had the opportunity, and she had the capability. She did not comment on her actions, she provided no reasons for her conduct. This would indicate she rationalised her behaviour. There was no indication of what pressure was applied or what pressure she was under to commit the offences. 

Couple conned out of $1 million through email scam

Email Fraud Scam

This is becoming a common scam. The Northern Beaches couple were purchasing a home. They received an email allegedly from their solicitor for payment of $1.1 million to finalise the purchase of the home. 

The email provided details of a bank account for payment. The couple went to the Commonwealth Bank to transfer the funds. They contacted the solicitor to advise him of the transfer.

He immediately told him to contact the bank as he did not send the email. They did so and, luckily, the bank froze the funds. The couple eventually got their money back. 

The email appeared legitimate as it had all the contact details of the solicitor and was an exact copy of previous emails – the bank details were false. 

Ex Surf Life Saving boss jailed for fraud.

Australia Surf Lifesaving Fraud

Matthew Hanks was the General Manager for Surf Lifesaving NSW. He was gaoled for three years and three months for defrauding the charity of $1.8 million between 2007 and 2016.

He used various methods to commit the fraud. These included secretly selling SLS NSW vehicles to himself at cost then on selling to private buyers at a higher price. He kept the difference. 

He also commenced a company called “See Hear Speak”. This was a printing firm. He contracted SLS NSW business to this company. He then sub-contracted the business to other firms at a cheaper rate. He invoiced SLS NSW for the full amount and kept the difference. He did not declare a conflict of interest.

In 2012, he changed the details on a grant cheque for $121,000 from the NSW government for a new clubhouse at Port Macquarie. He put the cheque into his personal account. No one noticed this had occurred. 

Mr Hanks indicated the lack of awareness of this transaction indicated to him SLS NSW was not managing him appropriately. He was immune from oversight. It was “almost too easy” to offend. 

Mr Hanks used the money to pay for a yacht and mortgage debts. 

He paid SLS NSW approximately $1.2 million before sentencing. He was sentenced to three years and three months.

Comment

He was a senior manager. There was no apparent independent oversight of his activities. The theft of the $121,000 cheque in 2012 should have been readily identified.

No due diligence around the supplier “See Hear Speak”. This would have identified his association with the supplier. No oversight on the purchase and sale of vehicles. Where was the money for the sale of these vehicles. 

An “asset register” within the organisation would have identified these discrepancies.

Trust – a major factor in fraud. He was a senior manager in a position of authority. There was no apparent external oversight of his activities. 

ACFE report indicated financial fraud schemes were the least common but the costliest with a median loss of A$1.3 million.

Fraud Diamond – He had the opportunity, and the capability. He committed the offences because “he could”. He rationalised his activities by commenting it was “almost too easy” to offend. 

There was no information of “pressure”. He became too greedy because no one challenged him 

Townsville woman jailed for stealing more than $50K from employer

Ms Tuitahi used a company credit card 704 times over 18 months charging $50,990 in false purchases. 

She used the card for personal purchases including groceries, phone accounts and alcohol. Most transactions were under $100. She disguised the transactions on the monthly reports.

He role as inventory control officer provided access to the company credit card. She commenced offending by initially using the card on two small transactions in one month. There were no challenges to the use so she increased her offending to over 40 transactions each month. 

Her defence argued the items were for living expenses. She was helping support her parents and other family members on a small wage.

Her manager was dismissed from the firm because he did not identify the fraudulent activities. 

She was sentenced to two and half years in custody suspended after she served six months.

Comment

The classic start small, not challenged so expand activities. No appropriate oversight. Manager dismissed for failing to identify fraud. 

Fraud Diamond

Pressure: Allegedly supporting family. Opportunity – she had access to the card. There was no apparent reconciliation of expenditure. She exploited internal weaknesses. Capability – she had access to the accounts so could disguise her activities as transactions on monthly reports. Rationalisation – not large amounts, needed to support parents and other family members. Was not being paid enough.

Sexual Harassment Equals a Touch

ACCA Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Is a “brief” intentional touch on the backside of an employee enough for dismissal?

Westpac employees attended a “sundowner” event after a professional development day. Attendance was voluntary – employees were not paid. During the evening, a long-standing senior manager briefly touched an female colleague’s backside. CCTV captured the incident. 

The company held an internal investigation and terminated the manager even though he had an unblemished record. The manager brought forward an unfair dismissal claim. 

The matter was heard in the FWC before Deputy President Binet on 4 February 2022 (John Keron v Westpac Banking Corporation U2021/3637). Ms Binet found in favour of Westpac. She highlighted the change in community standards around sexual harassment and conduct in the workplace have changed in recent years. All employees should know these changes. 

She highlighted the new standard within the workplace was higher than previously accepted. There was a view community standards guide the law and how courts respond to cases. Courts reflect these standards in reaching determinations. 

Westpac conducted employee training with a focus on “Doing the Right Thing”. The focus was sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying. Mr Keron participated in this training two months before the incident. The training was considered during the decision. 

Key takeaways: Have a clear policy relating to conduct must be enforced through regular (at least every year). Failure to do so may lead to the Commission assuming the company did not think sexual harassment an important issue (see more here)  

#unfair_dissmissal #sexual_harassment

The Hidden Threat

ACCA Risk Assessment The Hidden Threat

The Importance of Having a Conflict on Interest Policy

Most people do not appreciate the complexities of a conflict of interest. The conflict can affect many business decisions. Can you hire a relative? Can I buy goods from my best friend? Can I retain the services of my wife’s brother? “Yes” can be the answer to the question if the correct process is followed. A Conflict of Interest policy outlines this process.

Risk Assessment is the foundation of a Conflict of Interest policy. This is to ensure you consider all potential risks.

5W and 1 H Approach

You need to adopt the 5W and 1H approach to developing the policy: “who”, “when”, “where”, “what”, “why” and “how”. This will ensure you address all areas as part of your risk mitigation process.

The conflict of interest can either be incorporated into a Code of Conduct or it can be a standalone policy. Any action needs to address two key aspects: “Actual” and “Perceived”. The latter can be difficult to appreciate as parties tend to consider the “perception” from their perspective rather from what other persons may “perceive”. A good approach is to ask parties to reflect on the “Sunday Paper” test. How would they respond if the conduct was splashed across the front page?

Business Training Programs

There is a need to conduct regular training programs across your organisation. It is important to provide specific training to purchasing and HR Departments due to the greater risks.

The program should incorporate interaction with employees while discussing scenarios. The policy should include a reporting protocol, so persons are able to raise any concerns.

Protect your organisation with an effective Conflict of Interest procedure. ACCA can assist.

Legal Professional Privilege – Workplace Investigation

Legal Professional Privilege – Workplace Investigation Blog Post

If a legal firm conducts a workplace investigation, does that investigation attract legal professional privilege?

The Fair Work Commission recently considered this matter in Gaynor King [2018] FWC 6006 (26 September 2018).

This matter related to allegations of bullying in the City of Darwin (Council). The Council retained Minter Ellison to conduct the investigation into the allegations. The investigation substantiated allegations of “inappropriate conduct” by various parties.

There was an argument relating to the production of the investigation report to the Fair Work Commission. The Council argued the report was subject to legal professional privilege because the dominant purpose was to obtain legal advice or legal services in relation to a proceeding.

Commissioner Wilson highlighted the mere fact that a law firm conducted the investigation did not attract legal professional privilege. He stated the focus of the investigation and subsequent report was on the allegations raised by the complainant. It was an investigation into workplace conduct in accordance with the Council’s policies/procedures.

Commissioner Wilson determined the predominant purpose of the investigation was to inquire into the complaints made by the employee. It was to “test” if the code was breached and if so, hold the transgressors to account.

He further determined the investigation report was not covered by legal professional privilege and was required to be produced before the Commission. #investigation #legal_professional_privilege

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