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

Repeated behaviour is persistent and can involve a range of actions over time.

Unreasonable behaviour are actions that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would see as unreasonable. It includes 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.

Bullying is a psychosocial health risk which may increase the potential for workplace safety risks.

It isn’t limited to managers targeting staff, or vice versa. It can happen between co-workers or involve customers, clients or visitors.

If there is bullying, or may be bullying in your workplace the person conducting a business or undertaking (in workplaces, this is usually your employer) has an obligation to manage it.

If you feel like the behaviour you are experiencing is unreasonable:

  • You could seek advice from others such as managers, co-workers, Health and Safety Representatives, your union, community law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau.
  • You could get a ‘sense check’ that what you are experiencing is unreasonable behaviour by talking to a trusted friend or colleague.
  • If your workplace has a Human Resources Team, they will also be able to help.

Where to go for advice and help

WorkSafe

WorkSafe has several tools to help PCBUs (external link) (a person conducting a business or undertaking) eliminate bullying. These include its good practice guidelines to Preventing and Responding to Bullying at work Guide (external link) ’, and its ‘Bullying Prevention Toolbox (external link) ’.

MBIE MBIE provides a free mediation service to any employee or employer. This can be used to address bullying, or issues related to bullying.
Personal grievance

Where mediation or informal talks have not been able to resolve any issues, you may want to consider raising a personal grievances.

Under the Employment Relations Act an employee has 90 days, from when the action occurred, to raise this personal grievance claim.  

Find more information on personal grievance here.

Employment Relations Authority

If health and safety issues are part of a personal grievance, the Authority can and does deal with those matters in terms of the Employment Relations Act as implied terms of an employment agreement.

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

 Bullying can be a crime in some circumstances.

Act

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.

Digital Communications Act

If bullying is occurring through digital channels in, or out, of the workplace, then the Harmful Digital Communications Act might apply

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. 
  • Digital communication is defined widely in the Act to include any form of electronic message such as texts, photos, pictures, recordings etc.

Harassment Act 1997

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

Employment Relations Act

Providing a safe workplace for employees is an implied obligation in all employment agreements. If an employer breaches this obligation by failing to manage bullying and creating an unsafe workplace an employee may raise a personal grievance.

The Employment Relations Act outlines penalties for certain breaches of duty of good faith within an employment relationship.  Repeated verbal or emotional attacks on an employee may breach the duty of good faith – where parties to an employment relationship are required to be active and constructive in maintaining an employment relationship.

Health and Safety at Work Act

The Health and Safety at Work Act may apply.  The Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) are required to eliminate workplace risks so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes eliminating the risk to psychosocial harm.  

  • Please note that not all notifications of workplace bullying will meet WorkSafe’s threshold for initiating a response.

Human Rights Act

The Human Rights Act, may apply if the bullying includes discrimination including; racism, disability, sexual orientation, gender, etc