Allegations of bullying and harassment form a significant part of employment relations issues.
The duty to ensure that the workplace is safe for employees falls on employers and management of any problems arising should be part of the risk management process of every business. Because it is so easy for bullying and harassment to occur in the workplace, it is vital that companies have clear procedures in place, both to limit the risk of these occurrences and to handle situations where bullying and harassment may have occurred.
In the last four years, WorkSafe has dealt with 125 recorded cases which indicated bullying in the workplace. Of those 125 cases, WorkSafe investigated 11, with 57 being referred to a more appropriate agency or referred to employers to self-manage. WorkSafe has yet to prosecute anyone for bullying-related matters.
While WorkSafe plays a role in preventing harm in the workplace in New Zealand, its role in investigation and enforcement is targeted at “the highest risks and harms.” WorkSafe will only investigate bullying and harassment claims where there has been a medical diagnosis of severe mental harm. Instead, it considers that the Employment Relations Act and the Employment Relations Authority are the best places for these concerns to be raised and remedied.
The Employment Relations Act dictates the actions to be taken if a culture of bullying and harassment develops within the workplace. These actions include personal grievances for sexual or racial harassment, an unjustifiable action which has caused disadvantage to the employee, and unfair dismissal, as well as penalties for breaches of the Employment Relations Act and the employee’s employment agreement.
WorkSafe notes in its statement that the standard of proof in employment relations issues is on the balance of probabilities, as opposed to criminal prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, where proof of the offence is required beyond a reasonable doubt.
WorkSafe’s statement shows that where an employee suffers severe mental harm due to bullying or harassment in the workplace, WorkSafe will likely become involved, which thereby increases the risk of prosecution.
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Being a good employer involves actively handling these issues, and having clear procedures in place to manage these issues effectively as they arise. Whether you’re an employee or an employer, if you have experienced problems of this nature, or are looking to implement procedures to prevent these issues from occurring, we can provide you with the necessary expertise to navigate delicate employment and management issues before they become a more significant problem.