Crackdown on workplace bullies
Bosses will be told to take action against workplace bullies as the Government backs a crackdown.
Simply ordering a worker to do duties below their employment level, persistently criticising their work or allowing gossip to spread about them in the workplace are all likely to be slated as bullying.
New guidelines that define bullying and warn bosses on what action they need to take to counter bullying are about to be issued by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
They have been welcomed by experts - who say if companies stamp out bullying they can save their businesses millions of dollars in otherwise lost productivity.
Professor Tim Bentley said almost one in five New Zealand workers have been victims of bullying. In the public sector the number, according to a Victoria University study, is more like one in three.
"A bullying culture has developed and become normalised," said Prof Bentley, director of the NZ Work Research Institute at AUT University and the lead researcher on the first major New Zealand study on workplace bullying in 2009.
He said in the UK conflict at work is estimated to cost about £1000 per working adult per year. In Australia, it is a multibillion-dollar issue and Prof Bentley says it is the same here.
"It's always been there - there always will be bullies. They are bullies in school and then they go into the workplace. What's increasing is our awareness."
He welcomed the new measures.
"The guidelines have been worth waiting for. The current legislation doesn't really deal with bullying at all."
Recent cases taken to the Employment Relations Authority include a Dunedin woman truck driver who said she was bullied and harassed to the point where she felt she had to quit. She was awarded $63,000 in compensation.
A Christchurch bar worker was awarded $26,000 in compensation after being repeatedly harassed and bullied by her manager who was known for his "off-colour comments" and crude jokes.
She said she was micromanaged and when she complained about another staff member being harassed her role was changed from bar manager to cleaner.
A Masterton vet nurse claimed abusive and aggressive behaviour from her boss forced her to go on early maternity leave. Her claims included another staff member being asked to spy on her, being sent home early without pay and having her personal belongings confiscated. She was awarded $10,000 compensation.
Prof Bentley said the guidelines defined what bullying was, the causes of it and how organisations could prevent it.
"People don't understand what bullying is and what it isn't. It is hard to prevent something and create a healthy work culture if bullying and other types of ill treatment are going on unchallenged."
The guidelines would also outline the monetary cost to businesses.
"Bullying makes people leave and so you have to rehire and retrain."
- © Fairfax NZ News