Harassment & Discrimination

bullying, harassment & discrimination in the workplace

Harassment, Bullying & Discrimination

What actions constitute bullying, discrimination or harassment? And how should an Employer respond if these are present within their workplace? Failure to respond appropriately may place the Employer in breach of their obligations so it's vital that an Employer is firstly aware of potential workplace issues and secondly, how to respond. 

Please see our publication on Workplace Bullying and Harassment.   

Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying can vary in form, in some cases it may be as obvious as yelling, raging, and taunting. It may also feature the use of highly offensive and demeaning language, and even physical threats. While in other cases it may be a little less obvious, or more clandestine, where the employee might be placed under unrealistic time pressures, micro-managed, or undermined in a fundamental way.

Bullying in the workplace can be horizontal (where it is caused by peers), or vertical (between manager and employee), it can also be in the form of group bullying. It may not always be obvious to distinguish between bullying and mere personality clashes. Work bullies can sometimes offer unwarranted and unwanted displays of aggressive and overbearingly domineering behaviour that renders the victim powerless.

Although the affected Employee has an obligation to bring any concerns to the Employer’s attention, the Employer has certain duties in these situations; these include carrying out a thorough investigation. Failure to discharge those duties may place the Employer in breach of its obligations to the Employees. We can help you design and implement 'bullying in the workplace' policies. 

Unlawful Discrimination to Employees

The following are considered acts of unlawful discrimination:
  • Sex (including pregnancy and childbirth)
  • Marital status;
  • Religious belief;
  • Ethical belief;
  • Colour;
  • Race;
  • Ethnic and national origins;
  • Disability (including physical, psychological, presence of organisms);
  • Age;
  • Political opinion;
  • Employment status;
  • Family status;
  • Sexual orientation;
It is unlawful to discriminate against Employees for being involved in the activities of a union, as defined in section 107 of the Employment Relations Act 2000 ("ERA"). In addition, It is unlawful to discriminate against an Employee who refuses to do work believing that the work the Employee is required to perform is likely to cause serious harm to him or her.
The Human Rights Act 1993 ("HRA") provides the following as other forms of discrimination:
  • Racial disharmony: where a written matter, or words are used or published and are likely to excite hostility against, or bring into contempt any group of persons in or who may be coming to New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins of that group of persons;
  • Victimization: the less favourable treatment, or threats of less favourable treatment of a person, a relative or associate of that person, due to the person using or intending to use his or her rights under the HRA. This does not apply where a person is treated less favourably because he or she has knowingly made a false allegation or otherwise acted in bad faith;
  • Sexual harassment; and
  • Racial harassment.

Acts of unlawful discrimination will occur either:

  • during the process of recruitment and selection of staff; or
  • actually in the workplace.

If an Employee makes a complaint for discrimination and the employer has no procedures to deal with it, the Employer may be held directly responsible for the act of discrimination even though an employee or a customer may have committed it. We can help you put in place policies and procedures that address discrimination and harassment related issues that may arise in the workplace. 
The above is intended to be general information on the subject matter and not as an in-depth or exhaustive article. It should not be treated as advice. For more information about bullying, discrimination, and harassment please give us a call on 0800 15 8000

For more information, policy documents, systems and sample letters please see our publication Workplace Bullying and Harassment.