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What Responsibilities Do NZ Employers Have When Responding to Workplace Bullying and Harassment?

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Workplace bullying and harassment are issues that have a negative impact on both employees and employers. Employers have a legal and moral obligation to ensure a safe and respectful work environment for all employees as part of the Health and Safety at Work Act. If you fail to fulfil your legal obligations, you could face legal issues down the line. This article discusses an employer’s responsibilities when addressing workplace bullying and harassment in New Zealand.

Various laws and regulations address workplace bullying and harassment. Employers must be well-versed in these legal provisions to fulfil their responsibilities adequately.

Health and Safety at Work Act 

The Health and Safety at Work Act is the primary legislation for workplace health and safety legislation in New Zealand. It imposes a primary duty of care on employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Under this Act, employers are responsible for identifying and managing workplace hazards, which include psychological hazards like bullying and harassment.

Employers are legally required to take all reasonably practicable steps to eliminate, isolate, or minimise workplace hazards, including bullying and harassment. Failure to do so can result in significant fines and penalties.

Human Rights Act

The Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination and harassment on various grounds, including:

  • race; 
  • gender; 
  • sexual orientation; and 
  • disability. 

Employers must ensure that their workplace policies and practices comply with this Act to prevent discrimination and harassment.

Employment Relations Act

The Employment Relations Act sets out the principles and procedures governing the employment relationship in New Zealand. It includes provisions related to personal grievances, which encompass cases of workplace bullying and harassment. Employers have a responsibility to address grievances fairly and promptly.

How Can Employers Prevent Workplace Bullying and Harassment? 

Preventing workplace bullying and harassment is critical to managing it, and employers have a pivotal role in creating a safe and respectful work environment. Here are some key strategies employers can implement:

1. Develop Clear Policies and Procedures

Employers should establish comprehensive policies and procedures that explicitly define what is workplace bullying and harassment. These policies should outline:

  • reporting mechanisms; 
  • investigation procedures; and 
  • the consequences for perpetrators.

2. Provide Training and Education

Employees and managers should receive training on recognising, preventing, and addressing workplace bullying and harassment. Training programs should be regularly updated to reflect evolving best practices.

3. Foster a Respectful Culture

Employers should promote a culture of respect and inclusivity within the organisation. This includes encouraging:

  • open communication; 
  • diversity; and 
  • a zero-tolerance policy.

4. Encourage Reporting

Employers must create an environment where employees feel safe and confident reporting incidents of bullying and harassment. This may involve offering multiple reporting channels, such as anonymous reporting options like an anonymous hotline or survey.

5. Investigate Instances of Bullying and Harassment Promptly and Fairly

When allegations arise, employers must investigate promptly and impartially. This often involves appointing a designated person or team responsible for handling such cases.

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How Can Employers Respond to Workplace Bullying and Harassment Effectively? 

In addition to prevention, employers must respond effectively when incidents of bullying and harassment occur. This not only helps the victim but also demonstrates a commitment to a safe workplace. Here are the critical steps in responding effectively:

StepExplanation
Receive and Document ComplaintsEmployers should ensure that employees can easily report incidents of bullying or harassment. All complaints should be documented and kept confidential to the extent possible.
Initiate an InvestigationOnce a complaint is received, employers must launch an investigation. This may involve: 
+ interviewing the parties involved;
+ gathering evidence; and 
+ seeking witnesses. 
Investigations should be conducted promptly and impartially.
Take Corrective ActionIf the investigation substantiates the complaint, employers should take appropriate corrective action. This may include disciplinary measures, such as warnings, suspension, or termination of the perpetrator. The severity of the action should be commensurate with the offence.
Support the VictimEmployers should provide support to the victim throughout the process. This may include: 
+ counselling; 
+ changes in work arrangements; or
+ additional security measures. 
Victim support demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to employee well-being.
Review and Prevent RecurrenceAfter resolving an incident, employers should conduct a review to identify any systemic issues that may have contributed to the bullying or harassment. This helps prevent recurrence and ensures ongoing improvement in workplace culture.

Monitoring and Review

Employers must continuously monitor and review their anti-bullying and anti-harassment efforts. This includes:

  • regularly updating policies and procedures to reflect legal changes and best practices;
  • conducting periodic training and awareness programs for employees and management;
  • collecting and analysing data on staff complaints to identify trends or recurring issues; and 
  • seeking employee feedback on the effectiveness of prevention and response measures.

Key Takeaways

Employers in New Zealand carry significant responsibilities when it comes to addressing workplace bullying and harassment. Compliance with the legal framework, implementing robust prevention strategies, and responding effectively to incidents are crucial aspects of fulfilling these responsibilities. Ultimately, creating a safe and respectful work environment not only ensures legal compliance but also contributes to a more productive and harmonious workplace. 

If you want assistance in managing workplace bullying or would like to have policies in place, our experienced employment lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 0800 005 570 or visit our membership page.

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