Workplace bullying is a significant work hazard. It affects people physically and mentally, it can disrupt workplaces and reduce productivity. On the legal side, employers who don’t deal with bullying risk breaching a range of legislation and can be subject to fines of up to $500,000 and imprisonment of up to two years for failing to keep their employees safe at work.

Even without formal penalties, if an employee makes a bullying allegation it can be very costly and time-consuming, and employers may face additional costs of defending personal grievance claims in the Employment Relations Authority.

‘Best practice’ bullying guidelines were released by WorkSafe New Zealand early in 2014, including a clear definition of bullying (a first for New Zealand), a range of practical resources to help support and guide businesses and employees, and a clear path forward to manage this workplace hazard.

The new guideline defines bullying as ‘repeated, unreasonable and targeted and creates a risk to health and safety….. A single instance can’t be deemed as bullying.’ Repeated behaviour means there is time for prevention with well-documented and correct intervention.

The key to the guidance is helping employers to:

  • identify, assess and manage behaviours that cause distress to an individual or group (whether intended or not)
  • stop the unreasonable behaviour and re-establish healthy work relationships

Ideally, employers need to prevent the bullying behaviour. To demonstrate ‘best practice’, the following should be considered:

  • Building a culture of respect
    • Openly recognising and promoting diversity
    • Being genuine about solving a problem if/when it arises, and being open to change
    • Appointing and developing Managers who are leaders
    • Defining a code of conduct and communicating this to all staff
    • Ensuring that the workplace’s bullying policy is clear
    • Ensuring bullying prevention policies and processes are transparent
    • Educating, informing and reminding staff about bullying, utilising a range of methods
    • Providing a designated contact person and other support mechanisms for employees
    • Regularly reviewing policies and processes
    • Completing regular employee engagement surveys

If a bullying allegation arises, it is critical to take the allegation seriously including a prompt and effective response to ensure that the situation does not escalate. There is a range of resolution paths available for employers, and the response will depend on the situational circumstances. It is crucial to be impartial, and in order to do this, it may be appropriate to appoint an independent party to manage the situation.

Resolution options range from an informal conversation, to a formally documented approach or mediation and investigation.

Here is a workflow document to help determine the approach.

A formal resolution can involve mediation which is available to assist as soon as an issue arises, and may involve the facilitation of a meeting with the agreement of both parties. If mediation is unsuccessful, the Employment Relations Authority can resolve disputes over employer decisions, or treatment that employees find unfair or unreasonable.

Regardless of the methodology selected it is important that any discussion is documented, including agreed outcomes, and the document is dated and signed by both parties so there is an auditable information trail.

At a practical level, the specific outcomes from any bullying issue should be acted on immediately and any reports are utilised to improve the workplace environment, using workplace assessment tools to prevent bullying and improve the culture.

Resources you may find helpful:

  1. http://www.dol.govt.nz/infozone/businessessentials/
  2. Bullying cost calculator www.worksafe.govt.nz
  3. WorkSafe NZ Ph: 0800 030 040
  4. Bullying Policy Sample
  5. If you are seeking an on-line Discrimination, Harassment and Bullying training module, go to workpro.net.nz

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