Bullying

Bullying in the workplace can create a risk to health and safety. It is a form of misconduct and must be dealt with.

What is workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers. Bullying can be physical, verbal or relational/social such as excluding someone or spreading rumours.

Unreasonable behaviour may include victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person. A single incident of unreasonable behaviour isn’t considered workplace bullying, but it could escalate and shouldn’t be ignored.

Workplace bullying is not one-off or occasional instances of rudeness or misjudgement.

Bullying is not limited to managers targeting staff, or vice versa. It may happen between co-workers or involve customers, clients or visitors.

Employers and people conducting businesses have an obligation to manage bullying in the workplace

If physical harm is caused through bullying this may be criminal offence and covered under the Crimes Act. This should be reported to police. Call 111 if you’re in immediate physical danger.

How bullying harms employees

It is a health risk which may increase the potential for workplace safety risks and can result in serious physical or mental health issues including depression.

Bullying may cause anxiety, stress, fatigue and burnout, which in turn leads to loss of productivity and absences from work.

How to identify bullying behaviour

If you feel like the behaviour you are experiencing is unreasonable you could get a ‘sense check’ that what you are experiencing is unreasonable behaviour by talking to a trusted friend or colleague.

Some of the signs of workplace bullying include:

  • being excluded from team meetings or activities.
  • someone consistently taking credit for your work.
  • someone spreading false rumours about you.
  • swearing or yelling at you.
  • isolating you by not being accessible or limiting your access to others.

Remember, workplace bullying is not one-off or occasional cases of rudeness or misjudgement.

Reporting bullying to your employer

If you consider that the behaviour that you’re experiencing is bullying or other unreasonable behaviour, gather information of each incident and keep records of:

  • the date, time and where it happened,
  • what happened (who was present, what was said, who said what),
  • if there were any witnesses, and
  • how you felt

You should find out if there are any workplace policies or processes for reporting bullying and follow these. There may be specific and trained people in your workplace who know how to deal with these issues in a sensitive way.

If there are no workplace policies or processes, you should still let your employer know as soon as possible. If you aren’t comfortable doing this by yourself you can ask a colleague, friend or your union to help you.

You could also seek advice from others such as managers, co-workers, Health and Safety Representatives, your union, Community Law Centre or Citizens Advice Bureau.

If you're uncomfortable talking to your employer

If you are not comfortable talking to your manager or employer because of the type of complaint or any other reasons (eg if it’s your employer/manager who is bullying you), you could talk to:

  • another manager,
  • Human Resources (HR),
  • a health and safety representative,
  • a union, or
  • a lawyer.

If you aren’t happy with your employer’s response

You may go to mediation or raise a personal grievance if you are not happy with your employer's response.

Employees have 90 days from when the action happened to raise a personal grievance claim under the Employment Relations Act.

Employment New Zealand provides a free mediation service to any employee or employer. This can be used to address bullying, or issues related to bullying.

If you're not comfortable talking to your employer or anyone else in your organisation because of the type of behaviour or the person you are complaining about, you can go directly to mediation.

How to request mediation

Personal grievances

Where to go for further advice and help

WorkSafe

WorkSafe has several tools to help a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) eliminate bullying.

Who or what is a PCBU? — WorkSafe website (external link)

Good practice guidelines to Preventing and Responding to Bullying at work Guide (external link)

Bullying Prevention Toolbox (external link)

Employment Relations Authority (ERA)

The ERA can deal with health and safety issues if they a part of a personal grievance in terms of the Employment Relations Act as implied terms of an employment contract.

Employment Relations Authority (external link)

Employment Court

If you’re unhappy with the ERA decision, you can challenge it in the Employment Court.

Employment Court of New Zealand (external link)

Relevant legislation

Bullying can be a crime in some circumstances. The relevant legislation depends on the type and severity of bullying.

Crimes Act

If physical harm is caused through bullying this may be criminal offence and covered under the Crimes Act.  This should be reported to police.

Crimes Act 1961  - New Zealand Legislation (external link)

Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA)

The HDCA may apply if bullying is occurring through digital channels. Digital communication is defined widely in the Act to include any form of electronic message such as texts, photos, pictures, and recordings

Harmful digital communication and cyber bullying includes:

  • sending or publishing threatening or offensive material
  • spreading damaging rumours
  • sending or publishing sensitive personal information such as embarrassing photos and videos. 

Harmful Digital Communications Act - New Zealand Legislation (external link)

Harassment Act 1997

If the bullying leads someone to fear for their safety then it may be covered under the Harassment Act 1997.

Harassment Act 1997 - New Zealand Legislation (external link)

Employment Relations Act

The Employment Relations Act requires employees and employers to actively maintain their relationship. Repeated verbal or emotional attacks on an employee may breach the duty of good faith

Providing a safe workplace for employees is an implied obligation in all employment agreements. Employees may raise a personal grievance if an employer fails to manage bullying, and creates an unsafe workplace.

Employment Relations Act - New Zealand Legislation (external link)

Health and Safety at Work Act

A PCBU must remove workplace risks so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes eliminating the risk to psychosocial harm.

Not workplace bullying notifications will meet WorkSafe’s threshold for initiating a response.

Health and Safety at Work Act - New Zealand Legislation (external link)

Human Rights Act

The Human Rights Act, may apply if the bullying includes discrimination including:

  • racism
  • disability
  • sexual orientation, or
  • gender

Human Rights Act - New Zealand Legislation (external link)

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