Anti-bullying week – we must do better

26 May 2017
Author: Andrea Twaddle

This week, during anti-bullying week, we should all be mindful of New Zealand’s appalling statistics with regard to the incidences of bullying in the workplace. It is high time that employers take a more proactive approach to managing workplaces, so that employees do not experience unreasonable risk and the harm that inevitably follows.

The Chief Human Rights Commissioner has highlighted that:

“when we combine our bullying and suicide statistics with our shocking violence and abuse statistics the picture is very clear – some of our young people are struggling and we aren’t doing enough to support them. Recognising that addressing our rates of violence, abuse, bullying and suicide is not the responsibility of the individual, but the collective, will give us a chance”.

Put simply, we can, and must, do better.

The Health and Safety at Work Act imposes a duty on employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable the health and safety of workers. Rightly, the Act defines health to include both physical and mental health. Accordingly, employers are required to consider the mental health and wellbeing of their workers when planning a safe workplace.

In making that risk assessment, employers should be mindful to consider stress, fatigue, and bullying. Often, these are interrelated. For example, an individual being bullied will often cause the worker to experience stress, leading to a perception that he/she cannot cope with reasonable work demands. Fatigue is a common consequence.

Creating a workplace culture free of bullying requires leadership. Employees should be secure in the knowledge that personal information, such as health information, will be treated confidentially by their employers. The disclosure of health issues (including mental health issues) should be encouraged, with early disclosure enabling an employer to assist the worker to seek appropriate support and put in place management to minimise risk to the individual. Employer responses to disclosure of mental health issues should be measured, and informed, by seeking medical opinion.

Where bullying behaviour is observed, or a complaint is received, proactive steps should be taken to investigate and address the issue. Employers must have procedures in place to provide a clear means of raising concerns, and how these will be addressed.

We must also be mindful of how we reasonably respond to findings that bullying has occurred. Bullying is often a learnt behaviour. From a societal perspective, individuals who have been found responsible for bullying will need guidance to develop an insight into their conduct, and learn how to behave appropriately, so that the conduct is not simply repeated in the future. If employment has been terminated as the consequence of a bullying investigation, ongoing training will not be the responsibility of the existing employer. However, such personal development is essential if we are to create an anti-bullying culture in our workplaces, and if an investigation results in the “bullying” employee remaining in the workplace.

A collective responsibility for a safe and healthy workplace must be encouraged, if we are to have workplaces in New Zealand that truly reflect the society we ought to be.

Anti-bullying week – we must do better
About the Author
Andrea Twaddle
Andrea is an experienced specialist employment lawyer and Director at DTI Lawyers. She advises on contentious and non-contentious employment law issues, including privacy, and health and safety matters. Andrea is AWI-CH qualified, and undertakes complex workplace investigations. She is a member of the national Law Society Employment Law Reform Committee, a former Council Member at the WBOP District Branch of the Law Society, and Coordinator of the WBOP Employment Law Committee. Andrea is a sought-after commentator and speaker on employment law issues at client and industry seminars. She provides specialist, strategic advice to other lawyers, professional advisors and leadership teams. You can contact Andrea at