With the recent publication of the External Independent Review, ‘Bullying and Harassment in the New Zealand Parliamentary Workplace’ and the ongoing coverage of bullying in the legal profession, it’s clear bullying is not only confined to the schoolyards but is widespread across many professions in New Zealand.
Bullying is a concept everyone is aware of but what does it mean within the workplace? The first instance of workplace bullying was reported in 1992. To date, there is not one universal definition of what constitutes this bullying.
In February 2014, WorkSafe New Zealand released the first comprehensive government guidance called, “Best Practice Guidelines: Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying”. These guidelines are extremely useful and we recommend every employer and employee to download a copy for their own reference (see here).
The risk for employers is if workplace bullying gets left unchecked and a bullied employee suffers a medically recognized condition, an employer may be liable to prosecution under either the Health or Safety in Employment Act 1992, liability under the Employment Relations Act 2000, Harassment Act 1997 or the Human Rights Act 1993. Employees who leave their positions due to bullying may be entitled to an award of unjustified dismissal and compensated accordingly.
The WorkSafe guidelines define workplace bullying as “repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards one or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety”. This includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person.
The WorkSafe guidelines also list a number of instances which do not constitute bullying. This includes a single incident of unreasonable behaviour, differences of opinion or personality clashes that do not escalate into bullying, harassment or violence.
The most common form of workplace bullying is when the bully outranks the victim; although, it’s important to realise bullying can occur between:
It is imperative all employers deal with these issues promptly and correctly, given the serious consequences this can have on a workforce in terms of morale, absenteeism and reduction in productivity. Not to mention, along with allowing this sort of behaviour within the workplace often results in resignations, personal grievances and potentially court action.
In situations like this, what should be done by an employer? The first step is to take all such allegations seriously and act promptly on them. The employer has an obligation to fully and fairly investigate all allegations while acting in a way that provides support to all parties.
The employer must be:
Once an investigation has been completed, the employer should take whatever action that is deemed to be appropriate which may include disciplinary measures or dismissal.
While having a clear understanding of how to best deal with the instances of workplace bullying, it is highly recommended that employers have clear documented policies that will be prominent, continually renewed, monitored and updated. They should highlight their commitment to a workplace which does not tolerate such behaviour while outlining how to raise concerns and how those complaints will be investigated.
At Wakefields Lawyers we work with a range of employers on all aspects of employment law, one including workplace bullying. Get in touch with us at 04 970 3600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have questions on this topic you can reach WorkSafe directly at 0800 030 040 or the WorkSafe bullying prevention toolbox at https://worksafe.govt.nz/topic-and-industry/bullying-prevention-toolbox/.