WorkSafe NZ and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
(MBIE) have released a new set of “best practice guidelines”
relating to workplace bullying (Guidelines). The Guidelines are
intended as a comprehensive practical tool for both employers and employees in
preventing and responding to workplace bullying.
Important aspects of the Guidelines include the following:
What bullying is
The Guidelines define workplace bullying as “repeated and unreasonable
behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to
health and safety.” Repeated behaviour means that it is persistent, but can
involve a range of actions over time. Unreasonable behaviour means actions that
a reasonable person in the same circumstances would see as unreasonable.
Examples given include victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening a
In deciding whether particular behaviour amounts to bullying, the Guidelines
recommend that employees ask themselves whether what they are experiencing is
“unreasonable, repeated and health endangering” – in order to be classified as
bullying, all three aspects will usually be necessary. This means that a single
incident of unreasonable behaviour is unlikely to amount to bullying.
Importantly, the motivation behind the behaviour is not part of the
definition of whether or not a particular action amounts to bullying. In other
words, whether the alleged bully intends to undermine or harm the alleged victim
will not be relevant.
What bullying is not
The Guidelines emphasis that bullying is not:
- one-off or occasional instances of rudeness;
- setting high performance standards because of quality or safety;
- constructive feedback and legitimate advice;
- a manager requiring reasonable instructions to be carried out; or
- warning or disciplining employees in line with a workplace’s policies.
The Guidelines state that “reasonable management actions directed at an
employee can’t be construed as bullying as long as they’re delivered in a
It is not uncommon for employees who are being performance managed to raise
complaints of bullying in relation to the increased scrutiny and reviews that
they are receiving. This summary of what bullying “isn’t” may be useful in
assisting employees to understand the difference between firm management of
performance and bullying.
Advice to employees
The Guidelines also provide a series of flowcharts and other tools which
employees can use to answer the questions “am I being bullied?” and “what can I
do about being bullied?”. The Guidelines also suggest examples of several “low
key solutions” that employees could use if they feel that they have experienced
or witnessed workplace bullying.
Advice to employers
The Guidelines recommend that employers take a number of steps in order to
prevent bullying in their workplaces.
These steps include:
- recognising and promoting diversity;
- fostering a shared sense of purpose;
- developing management standards in relation to appropriate behaviours and
- making the workplace’s culture clear through a code of conduct, set of
values, and/or “vision statement”;
educating staff; and
- providing contact and support people (which may include internal support as
well as external support, such as EAP services).
Where a bullying complaint is received, the Guidelines include a recommended
process for responding to that complaint. This may include informal inquiries or
a formal investigation. The Guidelines emphasise the importance of principles of
natural justice in relation to the way any bullying investigation is
Addressing bullying in your own workplace
The Guidelines serve as a useful reminder for employers about the importance
of having policies in place for preventing and managing bullying and responding
to formal bullying complaints. The examples and templates in the Guidelines may
provide a useful starting point, but each employer should tailor its policies so
that they are consistent with the particular vision, values and standards of its
workplace. For example, it will be important to ensure that any bullying policy
is consistent with the employer’s other policies relating to disciplinary
For those employers who already have a bullying policy in place, it might be
useful to review that policy and ensure that it is “current” with the present
state of your workforce and culture. You might also want to consider running
“refresher” training with managers or staff relating to bullying issues and your
policy, as the Guidelines recommend.
It remains to be seen whether the courts will apply the Guidelines as “best
practice” in relation to bullying issues in future cases. However, workplace
bullying is a health and safety issue which all employees should be concerned to
eliminate if at all possible. It would therefore be prudent for employers to
consider whether you are doing enough to prevent bullying behaviour and ensure
that you have sufficient processes in place to manage bullying issues.
Our employment team regularly reviews bullying policies, provides advice in
relation to bullying complaints and can facilitate training sessions relating to
preventing and managing bullying. Please contact your usual Bell Gully contact
for more information.
This publication is necessarily brief and general in nature. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.