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Bullying and Harassment at Work Serious Problem In New Zealand

Bullying and Harassment at Work Serious Problem In New Zealand

Posted November 18, 2020

The Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) is seeking written submissions from the public (including businesses, workers and other stakeholders) on Bullying and Harassment at Work. Submissions are open until 31 March 2021.

Bullying and harassment at work is a complex and serious problem in New Zealand. Available research on workplace bullying suggests that New Zealand has higher rates of bullying than comparative countries, with some sources suggesting as many as one in five workers may be affected each year.

Bullying and harassment rates also vary across industries. StatsNZ’s 2018 Survey of Working Life revealed the industries with the highest reported bullying and harassment rates were health care and social assistance (18.8 per cent), public administration (18.1 per cent), and education and training (14.6 per cent).

When an individual experiences bullying and harassment at work, the impacts often go beyond the work environment. It can also impact their wellbeing in a broader sense through health issues, ranging from anxiety and self-esteem concerns, to stress, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide attempts. These can limit an individual’s ability to remain in paid work or participate in society.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, businesses and organisations have a primary duty to do what is reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of workers and others is not put at risk by their work. The health and safety system covers all types of working relationships (not just employer–employee). This means that businesses should have a focus on eliminating or minimising the risk from bullying and harassment at work. This should include risk assessments and management practices to identify factors that may give rise to bullying and harassment, and consideration of how identified risks should be managed. One of the most effective ways to minimise such risks is to review, and modify if necessary, the culture within an organisation. This involves taking a proactive role in identifying potential cultural factors that may give rise to bullying and harassment at work, and putting appropriate controls in place to minimise the risks.

Bullying and harassment can be a difficult issue to raise, particularly as workers may be concerned that it could impact their future employment. Sexual harassment can be particularly difficult to raise due to its traumatic nature. In many cases affected parties will choose to leave their employment rather than raise the issue. Stakeholder feedback and calls received by MBIE’s employment services and health and safety at work helplines suggest that there is still a lot of confusion on what is considered bullying and harassment and what to do when it occurs.

Under the Employment Relations Act, employers are required to respond to and address complaints regarding bullying and harassment at work as part of their duty of good faith and to provide a safe work place. When a concern or complaint is raised, the response taken should be impartial, fair to all parties, guided by the rules of natural justice, and take into account the nature of the issue and wishes of the person who raised it.

To find out more about the work being done by MBIE and how you can have your say about bullying and harassment at work follow the link.