That is the number of workplace conduct complaints and/or investigations that were disclosed by the Big 4 firms in Australia during financial year 2021, according to the Australian Financial Review.
The article today by AFR (which is worth your time reading in its entirely) focuses on sexual harassment and bullying complaints at EY Oceania during the past year. AFR reports that EY fully or partially substantiated six complaints of sexual harassment and bullying at its firm in 2021, with another six regarded as inconclusive or unsubstantiated. These findings were recently published in the “Workplace Investigations” section of EY Oceania’s first-ever Value Realised Scorecard:
Take this part of the EY Oceania report with a grain of salt because it’s typical corporate HR speak. And remember, young accountants, HR is there to protect the firm, not to protect you:
We take all complaints seriously. EY adopts a neutral and balanced fact-finding approach that aims to protect the rights of the complainant and the respondent. Every complaint is different and the specific procedure to be adopted in the consideration of each matter will be determined having regard to the circumstances. Methods for managing a complaint can range from informal discreet enquiries to commencing a formal investigation.
There are several different avenues for employees wishing to discuss or raise a complaint formally or informally, they include:
- Any Partner
- Talent Specialist Team
- Welfare Contact Officers
- Ethics Hotline
- Employee Assistance Program
- Mental Health First Aider
Our complaints management process is procedurally fair and thorough, but we also keep a strong focus on employee wellbeing and psychological safety. Outcomes in the past year included informal management, facilitated conversation, verbal warning, written warning, through to financial sanctions/withholding of promotion, and termination of employment.
Partners are most likely the cause of a majority of these harassment and bullying complaints, as recent history has shown us, so that first bullet point is laughable. And even if victims of sexual harassment and bullying at Big 4 firms file a complaint with or speak to any of the options above (or similar ones at their firm), they oftentimes are ignored, isolated, and eventually pushed out, while the accused (again, mostly partners and mostly men) are protected and usually given a slap on the wrist or maybe a stern talking to. Public backlash from media reports sometimes helps, forcing Big 4 firms, which initially protected partners like these, to send them packing, like we saw at EY UK, Deloitte UK, and KPMG UK.
According to AFR, PwC Australia disclosed the firm had reviewed 13 workplace conduct complaints last financial year which led to “a range of outcomes … including dismissal,” Deloitte substantiated 11 complaints that resulted in unspecified “disciplinary action”, and KPMG substantiated 27 complaints with actions taken including formal warnings, pay cuts, and forcing those involved to leave the firm.
With Deloitte, EY, and KPMG in Australia all changing their leadership at the very top within the last year, maybe we’ll see the number of sexual harassment and bullying complaints within these firms decrease in financial year 2022. Maybe.
Half of EY bullying, harassment claims unsubstantiated [Australian Financial Review]