By: Amanda Douglas
Bullying and harassment is a common and complex problem in the New Zealand workplace, with some studies suggesting that as many as one in five New Zealand workers experience bullying or harassment annually.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) has recently released an Issues Paper on bullying and harassment (including sexual harassment) at work in New Zealand.  This report can be found at https://www.mbie.govt.nz/have-your-say/bullying-and-harassment-at-work/.

This is the first time the Government has taken an in-depth look at the issues of bullying and harassment. In doing so, it has engaged with industry and local bodies, academics, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) and Employment Court, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and other entities which support those who experience bullying and harassment at work. 

The report highlights the groups most vulnerable to bullying, including women (especially those in ethnic minorities), migrants, young people, trans and non-binary New Zealanders and people with disabilities.  It also identifies New Zealand’s current systems for preventing and responding to bullying and harassment, (including both health and safety and employment relations systems) and provides some ideas and opportunities for future improvement within our systems. 

The report notes some key concerns with current frameworks, including that:
  • if an employee raises an issue regarding bullying or harassment, it is often responded to by employers as a legal matter from the outset, meaning the employee feels as if they need to get a lawyer for the process; 
  • in some instances, employees are not ready to raise a personal grievance within the 90 day timeframe – usually due to the highly personal nature of their complaints;
  • by the time cases bullying and / or harassment get to mediation, often the relationship has deteriorated to the point that the parties no longer want to continue the employment relationship.

It also poses some possible solutions to current concerns, including whether an early conciliation service via telephone could be beneficial in certain circumstances. 

The report seeks any feedback from organisations, groups, employers and individuals on how effective the systems are that prevent and respond to bullying at work.  MBIE is also interested to hear how systems are working for Maori and other groups which have been identified as disproportionately exposed to bullying, and whether a telephone-based conciliation service would be beneficial.

Submissions on the Issues Paper close on 31 March 2021.  If you would like to have your say Wynn Williams can assist you with your submission to MBIE.  Please contact us at  amanda.douglas@wynnwilliams.co.nz or phone 03 379 7622.
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