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Workplace bullying and harassment

Published December 7, 2017 (last updated on April 17, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator

Workplace bullying and harassment can negatively affect the reputation of a company, and be a substantial problem for employers. A workplace with bullying present can impact the company in many ways such as reducing productivity, lowering staff morale, and can result in costing the business money. It is important employers understand what constitutes bullying and workplace harassment, while having systematic procedures in place to solve the problem and support victims of bullying.

What is Bullying and Harassment?

Workplace bullying and harassment is defined as repeated unreasonable behaviour that comes from an employee, manager or customer. Bullying can occur in many forms and cause short-term or long-term psychological and physical harm. Identifying signs of bullying is crucial to stopping the problem before it gets worse.

Common examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Being aggressive, intimidating or humiliating

  • Threatening behaviour

  • Spreading rumours, playing practical jokes and teasing

  • Excluding someone from team or work-related activities

  • Purposely overworking an employee, giving too little work or withholding information which allows them to work effectively

  • Displaying offensive material

  • Pressure to behave in an inappropriate manner

Not all one-time instances of unreasonable behaviour count as bullying in the workplace, but they can reveal a deeper underlying problem which may escalate if it goes unresolved. However, even single acts of bullying related to age, race or sex are in breach of discrimination laws and can lead to disciplinary processes, potentially resulting in formal disciplinary action up to and including termination.

What is Not Considered Bullying?

Sometimes employees get the wrong idea on what constitutes bullying and harassment in the workplace. Unless the correct procedures are not being followed, these are not considered acts of bullying:

  • Disciplinary procedures

  • Giving constructive feedback

  • Telling employees how to do their work

  • Performance management reviews

How to Manage Workplace Bullying

When an incident of bullying happens at work, it is crucial to resolve the situation quickly as bullying poses a risk to workers’ health and safety.

Reporting bullying and harassment in the workplace can be tricky depending on who is involved. If there is conflict between an individual or a group of employees or another customer, the problem should be reported to a manager or HR representative. Or if the behaviour comes from a manager or someone in a higher role, the problem can be reported to a third-party.

If a worker is being bullied by a co-worker, they can make a formal complaint to their manager or HR representative. A formal investigation must take place and the correct disciplinary procedure be followed to resolve the issue.

Bullying and harassment in the workplace can have psychological effects on people. Be sure to provide stress relief and emotional support to those affected by bullying.

Creating a Workplace Bullying Policy

To promote a safe and supportive working environment, all organisations should have a workplace bullying and harassment policy. An effective policy clearly outlines:

  • The definitions of bullying and harassment

  • Examples of behaviour which define bullying and harassment

  • Examples of behaviour which do not define bullying and harassment

  • Policies and procedures to reduce the risk of bullying and harassment

  • Disciplinary procedures and the fair grounds for dismissal

  • Confidentiality agreements

To help employees understand these policies and procedures, offer bullying and harassment training regularly to keep the principles fresh in their mind.

Responding to Bullying Claims

If an employee believes they have been bullied or harassed and did not receive enough support from their employer, they are entitled to contact WorkSafe New Zealand to file a claim or in cases of discrimination, complain to the Human Rights Commission.

From there, the organisation will investigate the matter, possibly review the company’s bullying and harassment policy, and issue clear instructions to the employer to ensure the bullying does not continue. If the employer does not comply with these requests, they could face a formal claim.

For advice on how to manage bullying in the workplace, contact Employsure on 0800 568 012.

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