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Health and safety protections

Bullying in the workplace

Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, s 36

Although the health and safety laws don’t specifically mention workplace bullying, they require employers to make sure you have a safe working environment, and this will include making sure it’s free from workplace bullying.

The courts have generally defined workplace bullying as:

  • Kneebone v Schizophrenia Fellowship Waikato Inc (Employment Relations Authority, Akld, AA31/07, 13 Feb 2007)

    repeated actions

  • carried out with the desire to gain power and exert dominance, and
  • carried out with the intention to cause fear and distress.

The actions have to be more than just strong management.

WorkSafe New Zealand has released best practice guidelines for employers about how to prevent and respond to workplace bullying. Go to: worksafe.govt.nz/topic-and-industry/bullying

Note: For information about what you can do if you’re being bullied in the community or online, see the chapter, “Harassment and bullying”.

What should I do if I’m being bullied at work?

If you’re being bullied by your manager or employer, you could seek advice from your organisation’s Human Resources manager, from Mediation Services at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), from WorkSafe NZ’s health and safety inspectorate, from your union, or from your local Community Law Centre.

If you’re being bullied by a co-worker, you need to tell your employer. Once an employer is aware of bullying, they should take reasonable steps to ensure the workplace is safe. If your employer doesn’t do this, you may have grounds to raise a personal grievance for unjustified disadvantage (see above, “What does the duty to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ mean?”, and for personal grievances, see the chapter “Resolving employment problems”).

Because bullying can be hard to prove, and can involve a pattern of small or subtle actions over time, it is a good idea to keep a record every time you feel you have been bullied.

Stress in the workplace

Workplace stress can be caused by factors like unreasonable hours or workloads, workplace restructuring, and a lack of health and safety precautions against hazards. But you must raise it with your employer so they have to opportunity to manage it.

Options available to manage your stress could be offering sick leave, providing support like counselling, changing your duties, reducing hours (with your agreement), or moving you to an alternative role (again with your agreement).

If you’ve raised the issue with your employer and they haven’t done anything about it, you can seek advice from your union or Worksafe.

Note: If you’re experiencing stress outside of the workplace, for example, a relationship breakdown, your employer isn’t responsible for managing that stress, but they may have assistance available to you such as the Employee Assistance Programme.

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