Workplace bullying is back in the news with the Auckland Council
paying off multiple whistle-blowers.
The Council is reportedly paying $300,000 in confidential
settlements to two former employees. They were among four senior
managers who complained last year about the behaviour and
management of the infrastructure and environmental services
department under John Dragicevich. The Council also recently made a
large settlement to three former staff members in the billing and
credit management team at Manukau, who lodged a complaint of
alleged bullying and harassment by their team manager.
In New Zealand, there is no specific legal definition as to what
constitutes bullying but it is generally defined as unwanted and
unwarranted behaviour which is offensive, intimidating or
humiliating. It's likely to be continuous or repeated,
prolonged and deliberate. Specifically, bullying can include:
verbal abuse such as name-calling or offensive language directed at
the person; threats of violence; repeated humiliation in front of
others; and teasing or cruel comments about any psychological
The Council's harassment policy gives no further guidance as
to what bullying is, but states that bullying is "unlawful
under the Human Rights Act and will not be tolerated."
An employer has a duty to provide a safe workplace. We suggest
the following steps to ensure you are meeting this standard:
Ensure there is a comprehensive company anti-harassment policy
in place, which specifically addresses bullying.
Raise awareness of the unacceptability of bullying and
harassment in (or outside) the workplace, through regular seminars
and employee updates.
Promptly investigate any problems – reported or
otherwise. Where bullying is obviously taking place, an employer
may be liable for not taking proactive steps to address the
situation, even where no concerns or complaints have been
Subject to the outcome of the investigation, take appropriate
disciplinary action against the responsible employees if required
and keep the complainant advised throughout.
Ignoring a complaint or not taking sufficient action can prove
costly to an employer in the form of settlement payments or
substantial penalties for failing to take all practical steps to
ensure a safe workplace.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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