Workplace bullying, harassment or discrimination can make you feel powerless as if no one is on your side. However, every employee in New Zealand has the right not to be bullied, harassed or discriminated against at work. For employers, tolerating or promoting toxic behaviour in the workplace is contrary to the law.
What is workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that can lead to physical or psychological harm.
It may also include harassment, discrimination or violence. It must be both:
- Repeated behaviour – persistent actions (occurs more than once) and can involve a range of actions over time.
- Unreasonable behaviour – actions that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would see as unreasonable. This includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person.
Workplace bullying commonly fits into two main categories:
- Attacks that are direct and personal; or
- Indirect and task-related
Personal attacks might include:
- ignoring or excluding someone,
- or yelling or shouting.
Task-related attacks might include:
- setting unachievable tasks,
- impossible deadlines,
- or taking credit for your work.
A more extensive list of behaviour that qualifies as workplace bullying is on the Worksafe website.
What isn’t workplace bullying?
Some actions may upset you but do not qualify as ‘workplace bullying’ under the law. These include:
- one-off or occasional instances of forgetfulness,
- rudeness or tactlessness,
- warning or disciplining you in line with the code of conduct,
- or differences in opinion,
- or personality clashes that do not escalate.
Steps to take if you are being bullied (or see someone bullied) at work:
At Any Step – Seek legal advice
An employment law expert can assess your situation and show you the best way forward. You can talk to them confidentially at any stage of the process, from when the behaviour first begins to when you’ve tried everything to no avail.
Step 1 – Speak to the perpetrator
Although not always appropriate, the first step can sometimes simply be to have an open discussion with the perpetrator about the behaviour. Only take this step if you feel comfortable in doing so.
Be honest but keep things professional and polite. The fact that you’ve had this conversation may support your case if you have to resort to the next steps, so always keep a record of this.
Step 2 – Speak to someone else
If talking to the perpetrator is impossible or ineffective, talk to someone else at your workplace or union.
Often your manager, someone from Human Resources or a representative from your union will be well-positioned to help. They may be able to have an informal conversation with the perpetrator, telling the perpetrator that their behaviour was inappropriate.
Step 3 – Make a formal complaint
If the behaviour still does not stop, you may need to make a formal complaint which your workplace should have a formal process for. Make the complaint as detailed as possible, with specific allegations, dates, times and names of any witnesses.
When your manager or employer is the person you have a problem with, you may choose to raise a personal grievance (PG). If you decide to raise a PG, you can use your own lawyer for mediation.
The employment law team at Shine Lawyers are experts in guiding you through this process.
You can also use the free Employment Mediation Services. There are time limits in relation to PGs, so you should lodge one promptly after the incident.
Step 4 – Lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission
If you’re unsatisfied with how your work has managed things internally, you can go beyond your employer and lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. They can assist with matters relating to discrimination, or racial or sexual harassment.
In summary, the most important things to do if you are experiencing workplace bullying are to take action as early as possible, keep a record, check your contract and workplace policies for your rights, and contact an employment law expert at any stage.
by Alyssa Jones, Law Clerk, Shine Lawyers, Auckland.
How can Shine Lawyers help?
Shine Lawyers have a team of employment law experts who can support you if you have been subjected to workplace bullying, and help you stand up for your legal rights and get the resolution you deserve.
Get in touch today for a confidential and obligation-free discussion of your options.