It is evident that bullying is prevalent in New Zealand’s workplaces. Recently, the bullying culture within Fire and Emergency New Zealand was uncovered. Rhys Jones, Chief Executive of Fire and Emergency NZ, detailed that “we do a really good job at protecting communities but we need to put more focus on looking after each other”. The Positive Workplace Culture Review found that there was a strong trend of racism, sexism and homophobia through multiple levels of the organisation. Strikingly, 69% of survey respondents detailed that those doing the bullying were likely to be in senior positions to the target. Further, 53% of respondents detailed that they did not report bullying that they witnessed. It becomes clear through the report how the ‘hero’ complex that permeates the organisation masks a culture of bullying that goes on behind closed doors.

The report on Fire and Emergency New Zealand raises the concern over what someone can do if they are getting bullied at work. From an employment law perspective, this is dictated by the internal processes in the workplace.

Bullying does not have purely physical effects – it also affects people’s mental health and wellbeing. Bullying is defined by WorkSafe as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that can lead to physical and psychological harm. This will include a multitude of actions over time that are determined to be out of the ordinary. This could be victimising, threatening or humiliating someone. It is important to note that bullying can occur in any workplace and on a number of forums. For more information on what constitutes bullying, see our blog The legal aspects of workplace bullying.

If you feel as though you are being bullied there are a number of steps you can take in order to fix the issue:

  • Collect information to do with the incidents. Note the date, time, place and what occurred. Also detail whether there were any witnesses and the impacts on you.
  • Ask for advice and look for support. This could be within the workplace or outside the workplace. Speaking to someone trusted will help you clarify whether the behaviour was unreasonable and allow you to work out your options. Getting advice from an employment lawyer may also be beneficial at this stage, to clarify the issue. It is also important to find support through friends and family in order to have emotional support.
  • Check internal policies.
  • Report the incidents to your employer. This will kick start an investigation into what has occurred. The employer will ascertain both sides of the issue and look into any disciplinary action that is needed. If you are uncertain at this point or concerned with your employer’s internal procedures, contact an employment lawyer for advice.

An employment lawyer can be approached in order to work through the issue and provide support where a business’s internal processes are not strong. An employment lawyer will be beneficial if the issue moves to mediation as they are emotionally detached from the issue and are operating with your preferred outcome in mind.

As exemplified by Fire and Emergency New Zealand, where bullying is experienced at multiple levels of the organisation, it is difficult for the victim to have the confidence to speak out. Further, any discrepancies in the internal processes formed to deal with bullying can hinder reaching a satisfactory result for the victim. Where this occurs, an employment lawyer is crucial to solve the issue. Contact the employment lawyers at Bell & Co on 04 499 4014 for support.