Workplace Bullying

It is estimated that workplace bullying affects one in four people at work. This may be a conservative figure. In some industries such as the health sector, education and other areas of the public service, workplace bullying appears to be quite prevalent. The most common forms of workplace bullying are verbal abuse and intimidation, however there are many other subtle ways that people bully others at work. The definition we use is;

“Workplace bullying is unwanted and unwarranted behaviour, that a person finds offensive, intimidating or humiliating and is repeated so as to have a detrimental effect upon a person’s dignity, safety and well-being”

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Sexual and Racial Harassment

Both sexual and racial harassment are unlawful under the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993. In NZ one in three women, and one in six men experience sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment includes;

  • Language either written or spoken (includes making a direct or implied request for sexual activity which contains a promise of preferential treatment or detrimental treatment)
  • Visual material (written, posters, screen savers, emails, VDU’s)
  • Physical behaviour (touching, leering, gestures)

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Racial Harassment

Section 63(1) of the Human Rights Act states:

It shall be unlawful for any person to use language (whether written or spoken), or visual material, or physical behaviour that –

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Unlawful Discrimination

It is unlawful to discriminate and treat someone either favourably or unfavourably in the workplace, on the following grounds;

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Physical Violence

15% of all violent crimes in the US are committed in the workplace.

Physical violence (assault) is unlawful under the Crimes Act 1961 and the Summary Offences Act 1981 and define assault as actions of intentionally applying or attempting to apply force to the person of another, directly or indirectly, or threatening by any act or gesture to apply such force to the person of another. It also includes threats of violence by any act or gesture where the other person believes reasonably that the person is capable of carrying out the threat.

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Domestic Violence Spill Over

It is estimated that one in three families in New Zealand experience domestic violence. Women are the most common victims – although more men are talking about being victims of domestic violence as well. Most battered women are also working women and there is a flow on effect into the workplace we call ‘spill-over’.

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Legal Issues

Sexual/racial harassment and discrimination are unlawful under both the Employment Relations Act and the Human Rights Act. Currently there is no legislation outlawing workplace bullying although it constitutes a hazard under the Health and Safety in Employment Act because it is behaviour that has the potential to cause stress and mental harm.

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Handling a Complaint

The main problems employers have when handling complaints are;

1. Minimising or ignoring complaints

Many employers minimise complaints, treating them as a personality clash or a communication problem. Unfortunately this response does not resolve a complaint but often compounds it. If you ignore bullying it will go underground and you will have little chance to address it effectively.

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Chronic Bullies

Chronic bullies are the worst kind of bullies. They consistently bully others and are usually adept at doing this in complex and hidden ways. If you have a chronic bully in your organisation you will have a lot of complaints, high absenteeism, high staff turnover and poor staff morale and performance. They are also very clever at keeping others off their trail.

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Prevention Policy

Prevention is better than cure. We suggest developing a prevention strategy that focuses on enhancing the culture of your workplace in key areas. Unfortunately token training gestures or just developing a policy may do more harm than good.

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Workplace Bullying & Harassment Book
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Six Tools You Need To Handle Bullies PDF Document


A Guide to Investigating Complaints of Workplace Bullying and Harassment PDF Document