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Boss or bully: the difference.

UncategorizedAugust 18, 2016

Everyone has the right to go to work and not experience bullying. Workplace bullying is a very serious issue, with the amount of claims increasing every year. Auckland University of Technology Studies indicate between 16% and 20% of workers suffer a consistent level of bullying in New Zealand.

Many bullying claims come from employees against their managers or employers. This emphasises the difficulty in differentiating between bullying and reasonable management action – some employees can claim they feel bullied when being performance managed or having disciplinary action taken against them. Yet, management action taken against an employee is not bullying if it is carried out in a reasonable manner.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Employment Relations Act, employers have to identify and control hazards that could harm their staff. This includes hazards from undesirable behaviours like bullying; therefore it is important to make the distinction between bullying and reasonable management action. The following are examples of both.


Bullying is repeated behaviour that includes:

  • being aggressive, intimidating or humiliating
  • using bad language or rudeness
  • teasing, playing practical jokes or spreading rumours
  • exclusion from team activities
  • unreasonable work expectations, whether it be too much, too little or withholding information needed to do the job


Reasonable management action includes:

  • setting reasonable performance goals, standards and deadlines
  • rostering and allocating working hours
  • transferring a worker for operational reasons
  • deciding not to select a worker for promotion where a reasonable process has been followed
  • informing a worker of their unsatisfactory work performance
  • informing a worker of their unreasonable or inappropriate behaviour in an objective and confidential way
  • implementing organisational change or restructuring
  • taking disciplinary action including suspension or termination of employment


Employers should have a bullying prevention policy and procedure to address any employee issues. This will ensure that in the event of a claim, the employer can establish that they took reasonable management action to defend any accusation of bullying. Employers should regularly coach managers on the effective management standards and emphasise the bullying prevention policies and procedures in place. When expectations for work and behaviour are clearly demonstrated by management, there is less chance of undesirable behaviour from staff, and good staff conduct is the key to a healthy workplace.

If you have any questions relating to bullying or reasonable management actions, contact us today on 0800 675 700. Our specialist team can answer any questions you may have.

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