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Workplace Bullying

Published 10 May 2016

At the end of the 20/20 World Cup many cricket fans will still be basking in the glory of New Zealand’s ‘golden summer’.  This season of cricket has brought with it vast array of debates amongst sporting fanatics, alternative commentaries and throughout the workplace. 

One topic that is sure to ignite such a debate is the extent to which sledging is acceptable within a gentleman’s game.  If we listen to the Australians, sledging is apparently common place on the pitch and comes with the territory.  However, outside this boundary, and into the realm of the workplace, these jovial remarks can turn into workplace bullying irrespective of intention.

Bullying in the workplace should be a serious concern to Employers.  Bullying is fundamentally bad for business in reducing productivity and disrupting workplaces.  Employers who do not deal with potential, or actual, bullying also risk being in breach of the:

  • Employment Relations Act 2000;
  • Health and Safety at Work Act 2015;
  • Human Rights Act 1993; and
  • Harassment Act 1997.

Bullying has been defined by Workplace New Zealand as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers.  A single incident will not be considered workplace bullying, but Employers should remember that a one-off comment could escalate and should not be ignored.  Furthermore, discrimination, harassment and violence can be one off and may also result in sanctions being sought against the Employer.
Employers need to ensure that workers understand the Company expectations regarding workplace conduct, what will be accepted as banter, and what comments and actions may make other employees uncomfortable and are not acceptable.  What is appropriate will differ from workplace to workplace so it is a good idea for Employers to have clear policies in place, provide training for employees, and monitor all comments, absenteeism’s, complaints and resignations.  In particular, we suggest that Employers pay close attention to:

  • Banter that is not reciprocal;
  • Comments that are targeted at a particular employee or group of employees;
  • Remarks that are overly personal, or, make you instinctively feel uncomfortable; and
  • Any complaint, no matter how trivial, that alleges bullying and requires investigation. 

There are a number of tools, systems and resources Employers can use to ensure their workplace maintains a zero tolerance policy against bullying and harassment.  Members can download this publication from the Dashboard Library of the, non-members can purchase online: