Health and safety protections
Mental health at work
Your employer’s health and safety responsibilities include your mental health and wellbeing at work. Your employer is responsible for monitoring all workers’ health and stress levels, which means keeping an eye on people’s workloads, the types of tasks they are doing, and any physical signs of stress.
Employers are not directly responsible for health and stress concerns from outside of the workplace.
Stress in the workplace
Workplace stress can be caused by factors like:
- an unreasonable workload, or
- lack of health and safety precautions against hazards, or
- workplace bullying, or
- workplace restructuring, or
- a toxic work environment.
It is your employer’s responsibility to monitor these factors, but you should tell them directly if you are facing stress at work. Your employer then has an obligation to try and minimise or resolve the issue.
How can my employer help with workplace stress?
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.
Cases: Kneebone v Schizophrenia Fellowship Waikato Inc (Employment Relations Authority, Akld, AA31/07, 13 Feb 2007) Corbette v UDP Shopfitters Ltd  NZERA Christchurch 151; Rampton v Chief Executive Wellington City Council  NZERA 490201
The courts have generally define workplace bullying as:
- 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 best practice guidelines for employers about how to prevent and respond to workplace bullying online, here (or, go to www.worksafe.govt.nz and search “bullying” to find them).
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, Mediation Services at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), WorkSafe New Zealand’s health and safety inspectorate, your union, or 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 (see: “What does the duty to do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ mean?”). If your employer doesn’t do this, you may have grounds to raise a personal grievance for unjustified disadvantage.
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.