Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that can be physical, verbal or relational/social.

Repeated behaviour is persistent and can involve a range of actions over time. For example, a single instance of verbal abuse is usually not considered bullying. However, a second instance of verbal abuse or another unreasonable behaviour, would usually trigger an investigation and, possibly, disciplinary action.

Investigations into workplace bullyingUnreasonable behaviours are actions that a reasonable person, in the same circumstances, would see as unreasonable. It includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening a person. A single incident of unreasonable behaviour isn’t considered workplace bullying, but it could escalate and shouldn’t be ignored.

Bullying is a workplace health and safety risk. Persistent bullying can affect workers’ psychological well-being, job satisfaction and confidence levels and can impact negatively on productivity. Long term bullying-related stress can also manifest into physical illness.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, employers and workers have a responsibility to ensure workplace bullying is adequately addressed.

We provide a range of resources and services to help you effectively investigate and manage complaints of workplace bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination. We can also evaluate your existing policies and complaints management processes and advise on ways to improve.

EXAMPLES OF WORKPLACE BULLYING

  • Attacking or threatening a worker with any type of object that can be used as a weapon.

  • Pushing, shoving, tripping or grabbing a person in the workplace

  • Repeated hurtful remarks or attacks, belittling or making fun of a person’s family, sexuality, gender, race, culture, education or socio-economic background

  • Sexual harassment such as unwanted or unsolicited touching, sexually explicit jokes, comments or emails or any sort of invasion of a person’s personal space that would reasonably make them feel uncomfortable

  • Playing mind games, ganging up or other types of psychological harassment

  • Intimidation. Making a person feel less important or devalued.

  • Giving a worker pointless tasks that are unrelated to their job or giving a worker tasks that are impossible to complete

  • Excluding or stopping a worker from working with people or taking part in workplace activities

  • Deliberately and frequently changing rostered shifts or work hours to the detriment of the worker

  • Deliberately withholding information needed by the worker to adequately perform their duties

  • Initiation or ‘hazing’ – a ritualistic practice in which workers are made to carry out humiliating or inappropriate tasks in order to be accepted as part of the team.

RECEIVING COMPLAINTS OF BULLYING

The risk to health and safety means complaints of workplace bullying should be acted upon straight away. Even if the worker does not want to make a formal complaint, it is important to act on any allegations of bullying.

All allegations of bullying need to be investigated. When conducting an investigation, employers must ensure that the allegations are thoroughly investigated, making sure that a fair process is followed. Fair process is sometimes referred to as procedural fairness or natural justice.

Workplace Bullying and HarassmentClaimsWhen taking action against an employee for workplace bullying, the employer must follow the requirements of the Employment Relations Act 2000 and rules of natural justice (procedural fairness), giving the employee an opportunity to show cause as to why disciplinary action should not be taken.

Employers must properly raise their concerns with the person who is the subject of the complaint. This involves telling the employee that a complaint has been made, providing all relevant supporting information and letting them know that disciplinary action is a possibility.

As the employer you are to give the employee a reasonable opportunity to tell their side of the story, and genuinely consider the employee’s explanations (if they are provided).

In situations where the is an ongoing risk of further bullying taking place eg. the complainant and the subject employee work closely together, it is usually advisable to stand down the subject employee pending the outcome of a thorough investigation.

The employer should also;

  • make sure the decision maker is as impartial as possible. Even if the decision maker is unbiased, employers need to consider whether there might be a ‘perception of bias’ and whether this perception is likely to result in claims of impartiality.
  • tell the employee that they may have a representative or support person present at any disciplinary meetings
  • give the employee an opportunity to seek independent advice throughout the process
  • give the employee an opportunity to give their explanation or response to the person who will make the final decision
  • not make the decision on what action to take until after hearing and considering the employee’s response to the proposed course of action
  • treat employees without bias and in a way that takes into account any similar situations that have occurred
  • consider all options before making a final decision.

EXTERNAL INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATORS

Employers may choose to engage external workplace investigations specialists for a number of reasons including;

  • lack of appropriate investigative training and experience internally;
  • lack of time – investigations are very time hungry;
  • there is a conflict of interest preventing an internally managed investigation; or
  • there may be a perception of bias is the investigation is conducted internally.