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Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying

Posted by denise on 6 May 2014 | 0 Comments

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The recent release by Worksafe NZ of the workplace bullying guidelines ‘Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying'  resulted in a flurry of calls and enquiries asking me  “what do these mean for us as an employer?”. 

For the first time New Zealand has a  definition of workplace bullying:

Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.

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

- Unreasonable behaviour means 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 is not considered workplace bullying, but it could escalate and should not be ignored.

The guidelines are an excellent tool in stepping you through what you need to think about in preventing and responding to workplace bullying complaints.

What do the guidelines mean for employers?

You can expect your employees to be better informed & aware about workplace bullying.  You can also expect to receive more complaints, either informally or formally, of bullying.  The guidelines provide advice for people  on what to do if they think they are being bullied including contacting WorkSafe NZ if they need information and support.

The guidelines show how 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 working relationships

The guidelines also includes a suite of  useful tools, templates and checklists for both employers and employees, including:

  • ‘Am I being bullied’ checklist and flowchart (p 16 – 17)
  • A notification template for reporting undesirable behaviour (p.55)
  • Sample bullying policy (p56)
  • A flowchart of actions for responding to a bullying complaint (p.42)
  • A workplace assessment tool to help identify workplace improvements
  • Real life case studies on managing bullying issues

Workplace bullying can be carried out in a variety of ways including through email, text messaging, internet chat rooms or other social media channels. In some cases workplace bullying may occur outside normal working hours.  Employers who fail  to respond appropriately risk breaching legislation, including the Employment Relations Act, Human Rights Act, Health and Safety and Employment Act and Harassment Act.

Some Do’s and Don’ts

  • have a  policy and complaints procedure – that has teeth but also protects all parties
  • ensure your staff know how to report concerns and complaints
  • build positive relationships in a respectful work environment
  • recruit and build managers who are positive leaders
  • make your expectations  around a bully free workplace clear – role model from the top
  • employ staff who understand your workplace culture
  • manage complaints in a sensitive and timely fashion, wherever possible taking an initial low level and informal approach
  • remember it takes courage to raise a complaint – respect that

- Ignore the problem and hope it will go away

- Ask a complainant to withdraw their complaint

- Suggest is’s a personality problem and  “sort it out between yourselves”

- Say to the complainant “you're imagining things”  or “harden up”

For more information on managing workplace bullying go to our WPB page.

For a full copy of the Guidelines  refer to the WorkSafe NZ  website:

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