Workplace bullying and harassment

Workplace bullying and harassment (including sexual harassment) is serious. Studies suggest that between one in five and one in three New Zealand workers report bullying or harassment annually.

Bullying and harassment allegations or concerns often involve employment relations issues. The Employment Relations Act and the Employment Relations Authority are often the best place for these concerns to be raised and remedied. WorkSafe will always have a role in supporting harm prevention activity, although our investigation and enforcement activity is risk based and targeted at the highest risks and harm. This means we will typically only investigate bullying and harassment claims where there is diagnosis of serious mental harm. This is consistent with the approach we take to all risks and harms notified to WorkSafe.

Prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act requires the elements of the Act to be proven beyond reasonable doubt and for there to be a public interest in the prosecution occurring. This is a higher standard than is required for a successful case under the employment relations legislation. Typically we prosecute around one percent of all matters brought to our attention. While WorkSafe has investigated nearly 10% of bullying cases we have not yet prosecuted any matter.

Psychosocial risks such as work-related stress, bullying and harassment (including sexual harassment) are a focus of WorkSafe’s 10-year strategic plan for improving work-related health.

This year, part of WorkSafe’s harm prevention work is strengthening worker engagement, participation and representation to create workplace cultures that support good health and safety. We are also looking at building our strategic approach and capability in work-related psychosocial harm, including workplace bullying and harassment.

Bullying and harassment is a known and common workplace risk. Managing this risk should be a standard part of every businesses approach to effective management of health and safety. Like all other health and safety risks, this requires leadership, risk management and engagement to effectively manage. Businesses must recognise bullying and harassment as a risk and have clear processes in place to handle it – from creating a culture that identifies appropriate behaviour and values people speaking up through a simple way for people to do so and on to a speedy resolution of the allegation. Bullying is an insidious behaviour and the longer it is left not dealt with, the easier it becomes for the issue to reach crisis proportions.

At this point, bullying is a very small proportion of issues raised with WorkSafe, but it is certainly an emerging issue not only here, but also globally.

From 16 December 2013 to 25 October 2018, we have had 178* recorded cases that indicated bullying (we have had over 40,000 health and safety incidents or events over this period). We investigated 16 of the 178 and 66 were either referred to a more appropriate agency (ERA, Police, Other) or referred to the PCBU to self-manage.

WorkSafe provides support to businesses and workers dealing with workplace bullying concerns through its Good Practice Guidelines to Preventing and Responding to Bullying at Work guide and bullying prevention toolbox

Preventing and responding to bullying at work (PDF 897 KB)

 *  WorkSafe has recently categorised complaint types: e.g. amputation of limb, death, quad bike accident, bullying etc. To produce the statistics above, the bulk of which predate this, a keyword search of complaints alleging bullying was applied. It is possible not all bullying complaints have been captured.