Workplace complaints: when do the police need to know?

As a HR or Governance Manager you’ll often get a workplace complaint that has an element of criminality. Here’s some examples:

  • A Disability Support Worker accused of assaulting a client
  • A complaint of sexual harassment where the complainant was indecently assaulted (or sexually assaulted, depending on the law of your state or territory)
  • An employee who has misappropriated funds, stolen property or committed some other fraud
  • A staff member accused of selling drugs to other staff at work
  • One employee physically assaulting another at work

On many occasions, there is a fine line between criminal behaviour and a workplace misconduct matter. And most times, the alleged act breaches both standards.

But as a receiver of a complaint where a “crime” has been committed, what are your options? Do you have to report it to the police (or other agency, like a Corruption Commission?) The latter is easily answered in policy. But what about the cops?

First, it’s best to disclaimer this information with two important things. One, we are not lawyers and are not giving you legal advice. Two, your reporting obligations may well depend on what state/territory you are in. Some states require a person to report a serious offence (check what this is) and some don’t. If you find an indictable amount of drugs, for example, you may need to report this to the police in New South Wales, but not Queensland.

Second, what are the wishes of the victim/complainant?

Taking a victim-centred (and trauma informed) approach means counselling and advising the complainant (if there is one) of the options available. This means being able to let them know the process police may take, what may be required of them and what action the police may take (note the emphasis on the word “may” here).

Also, note that pressure and influence either way is not victim-centred. If the complainant does not wish to involve police, then relevant advice about the workplace investigation process should be outlined to them.

Either way, it’s the complainant’s choice when it comes to police involvement.

For matters where the “victim” is the organisation (like in cases of fraud, not an individual) then there needs to be some resolution about whether to report the matter to police. There are advantages and disadvantages either way.  One of the biggest advantages of not reporting is timeliness. The police have a lot on their plate and your complaint won’t necessarily go to the top of their to-do-list. That can mean a lot of waiting for them to finish their investigation.

It’s also important to recognise that there are different standards of proof between police investigations and workplace matters.

So, if you report a matter to the police, can you then conduct a workplace investigation at the same time?

This is a commonly asked question, and one that will get you a different answer dependent on who you talk to. In an upcoming blog this issue will be discussed in terms of what you’ll need to consider.

In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a no obligation chat about your issue and guidance on your decision-making process.

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