Article written by Nardine Collier
Family Lawyer Cairns & Alice Springs

Joan (not her real name of course) HATES her job. All was well, until she plucked up the courage to ask for a pay-rise. Her boss was abrupt with her and just said no. She was very embarrassed and upset. She felt she wasn’t well regarded, so since then she has only done the bare minimum her job requires.

Joan became more and more unhappy and her misery was apparent to her colleagues and worse, to customers. Her colleagues stopped asking her out for drinks on a Friday night, and to her great distress she has just found out there was an impromptu early knock off with drinks in the boardroom, on a day she was off work sick. She doesn’t think it was spur of the moment,  that it was planned because she wasn’t there. She thinks no one in the office likes her.

The boss, Joel (definitely not his real name) just doesn’t know what to do. He really couldn’t afford to give Joan a pay-rise, he knows he didn’t handle her request very well, but since then she, quite frankly, is a misery to be around.  He has tried to talk to her, but she is not very approachable and the last time he tried she burst into tears and took the rest of the day off.  He really doesn’t want to sack her, and he is not even sure if he has grounds to, because she does do her job – just without much enthusiasm. She has started to take more and more sickies lately though and he wonders if that is grounds for dismissal, although she does always produce a medical certificate.

The tension is starting to effect the whole workplace, with staff morale not being as it was. Other staff are starting to call in sick and the growing number of sick-days is certainly effecting the overall productivity of his business. What can he do?

This is based on a true life scenario. It ended up with “Joan” leaving work claiming she had been bullied and had suffered depression as a result and was unable to work. It cost the Employer a lot of lost time, and profit and did affect his reputation and overall business.

What could he have done? He did try and talk to Joan. The trouble was, he didn’t handle it all that well (let’s be honest, he probably made it worse) and she in turn couldn’t see the ‘olive branch’ for what it was and thought he was ‘having a go’ at her for taking sick leave.

What would have worked better, was an opportunity for both Joel and Joan, to air their grievances to a neutral third party, and then work towards finding a solution. Joel was prepared to ( and could have, at the mediation) apologise for the way he handled the request for a pay rise. In turn he could have explained to Joan ( which she didn’t know) that on the day she asked for the pay-rise he had just found out he had a big tax debt to pay, and so he wasn’t as receptive as he might have been.

It might have taken just that sort of conversation, in a controlled environment, to get the working relationship back on track.

Don’t let workplace disputes get out of hand.

Nardine Collier is a Nationally Accredited mediator and has been mediating family law disputes for 20 years. She is a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, a Family Law Arbitrator, a panel mediator for various Australia wide organisations and for courts and tribunals, and regularly mediates at legal aid conferences in family law, in Cairns and the Northern Territory. She is also the Cairns representative of the Queensland Chapter of the Resolution Institute of Australia.