Recently an employer was ordered to pay $6,000 to an employee in compensation after the employee raised a claim of unjustified disadvantage through their employer failing to provide a safe workplace.  The employee took extended periods of time off work due to stress and anxiety.  The employee claimed that the employer was well aware of the conflict between the staff members and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it.

This was a costly exercise for the employer and a situation that could have been avoided if steps were taken to eliminate the conflict in the workplace.

It is quite common for conflict to arise between colleagues in the workplace.  In our experience there aren’t many workplaces that don’t experience some type of conflict or workplace bullying.

From an employer’s perspective workplace conflict can be quite costly and their business or organisation may experience one or many of the following:

  • High staff turn over;
  • Abused or overused sick leave;
  • Downtime and or lack of productivity in the workplace.

Often the employer or manager acts as a mediator or go between which can also be costly for the employer in terms of wasting time that could otherwise be put to good use.

From an employee’s perspective conflict at work can mean:

  • Sleepless nights worrying about work;
  • Lack of productivity due to stress:
  • Their mind not being on the job at hand;
  • Health problems;
  • Emotional stress;
  • Resigning from a job they otherwise enjoy.

Due to the nature of the problem it can go undetected and therefore is not easily resolved.

While this type of problem is not specifically covered in legislation it can be seen as a health and safety issue if serious enough.  If the problem is more one sided (i.e. one person being bullied) it can fit into workplace bullying and becomes the employer’s obligation to put right.  However, if it is two way conflict between colleagues it is best dealt with by the employer acting as a mediator.  This way he or she can hear both sides of the story and take appropriate action.

If it becomes a performance or disciplinary problem then the correct action should be taken.  It is crucial to follow the processes (found in our Downloads section).  However, it may simply be that airing problems and clarifying roles can help eliminate the conflict.

A useful idea is for the employer to have what’s known as an “open door policy” encouraging any employee to feel comfortable and more at ease raising this type of concern with their employer or manager (it could also help in reducing unnecessary sick leave).  The employer could also implement a harassment policy which includes a complaints procedure.

For further information or a free chat call Alan Knowsley.