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Bullying in the Workplace - Part 2

In part two of our blog on bullying the workplace we look at the options that your have when your are faced with harassment, what government bodies there are that can help and the legislation that has been created to help maintain a safe working environment as a basic right.


So what do you do if you are being bullied


Gather information


You will need to compile some details to help you present a case of workplace harassment when you decide to file a complaint with either your employer or an outside organisation like the Coromandel Workers Council. These details are important, and should be true and as accurate as possible. This information will allow the party receiving the information to determine whether or not there is a case for workplace harassment and what steps need to be taken to end further harassment and resolve the issues that have been caused by the harassment being reported. The information that you should consider recording is:


  • The date, time and where it occurred

  • What occurred during the incident ( the people present, what was said and by who)

  • A list of witnesses if there were any

  • How the incident made you feel.

Take action


In these situations you will have a number of options such as:


Seek advice

Seek advice to ensure that what you are experiencing is in fact bullying. This can be sought from a manager, co-worker, health and safety representative, your union, your local Community Law or Citizens Advice Bureau. It’s your right to have a support person present at any of these meetings.


These days most companies will have a human resources department that is there to take an unbiased approach to dealing with these kinds of situations. As above you are permitted to have a support person present in all of your encounters with them.


Report the behaviour


It is important that you report any harassment or bullying to the business or undertaking that employs you. From here they will need to determine the best course of action based on the complaint and the seriousness of the issues you are bringing to their attention.


The business should already have in place a process for how to deal with reports of bullying and harassment. This could involve a formal investigation if the harassment has occurred over a long period of time and involved senior staff or multiple workers. They may also opt to take a different approach which is less formal.


Make a formal written complaint


As already mentioned, your place of work should have a system of processes in place to deal with any formal complaint that they are presented with. A formal complaint should always trigger a formal investigation.


It is important that you have an understanding of the process to ensure that your formally written complaint is formatted correctly and sent to the right person within the company. The written complaint needs to contain specific allegations, dates, times, and the names of any witnesses if there were any.


Deal with it yourself


Lastly if you feel comfortable approaching the party or parties doing the bullying to discuss your concerns then do, but only if you feel okay doing that.


Mediation


During or after an investigation has been launched both you and the person or people who are accused of bullying can request and take part in mediation. Mediation services, like those provided by the Coromandel Workers Council, involve a trained and impartial mediator facilitating a discussion on to reach an agreement or a way forward. Mediation can create a safe and constructive environment where everyone is able to speak and be heard. Any concerns about such an arrangement should be discussed prior.


What happens after the complaint is submitted


Once a business has received a complaint from you they need to ensure that your working environment is safe and free from reprisals. This means that both you and the person who has been reported are supported appropriately.


The seriousness of the complaint will determine the measures that the business will need to undertake to ensure your safety and wellbeing during the course of the investigation. This may include taking actions like a suspension of work or reassignment of duties for the subject of the complaint.


Guidance of how your interactions with the subject of the complaint should also be outlined if day-to-day contact is unavoidable.


What occurs in an investigation


To ensure that the outcome of any investigation is fair it will need to be carried out by independent and unbiased investigators. They will be interviewing all of the parties involved in the complaint and any witnesses that you mention and go over any documents that are relevant to the complaint. This will help them to compile a report on their findings and recommend solutions to the business. The subject of the complaint should also be given a reasonable opportunity to respond to the allegations or concerns.


From here the business you work for should organise separate meetings with you and the subject of the complaint to discuss the report and the recommended solutions. A copy of the report should be given to you and they should also inform you of your right to appeal and decision and how this process works.


The final decisions and actions should be reported back to you, keeping in mind that the privacy of the subject of the complaint needs to be maintained. The business should inform you of their processes should you be unhappy with the final outcome.


Government bodies and Legislation


When you are unhappy with a final decision made by the business that you work for you will want to look elsewhere to seek a resolution.


Sometimes it is appropriate to approach different Government bodies depending on the seriousness of the complaint and lack of outcome that you are satisfied with.


There is also legislation that can support you to find a better outcome depending on the types of bullying that have occurred.


Firstly there is the Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA) which aims to build productive relationships through employment. The ERA outlines the different penalties businesses can face for certain breaches of duties with an employment relationship. Repeated verbal or emotional attacks on an employee may breach the duty of good faith – where parties to an employment relationship are required to be active and constructive in maintaining an employment relationship.


If you resign from your work as a result of your employer to provide a safe working environment you may be able to raise a personal grievance for unjustified dismissal or constructive dismissal. If you are still employed with the business you may still be able to claim unjustified disadvantage under the ERA as well as a breach of contract.


When it comes to harassment the ERA only provides you protection from sexual and racial harassment, which are also covered by the Human Rights Act 1993 (HRA). This also gives ground for a personal grievance under the ERA or a claim under the HRA.


The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) is the primary work health and safety legislation. Worksafe is the primary health and safety regulator in New Zealand although Maritime New Zealand and the Civil Aviation Authority also carry out certain health and safety functions that relate to their own industries.


The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 (HDCA) is meant to deter, prevent or otherwise mitigate harm (serious emotional stress) caused to individuals by digital communications. Its purpose is to provide a quick, efficient and inexpensive legal avenue for people dealing with serious or repeated harmful digital communications.


A digital communication is any form of electronic communication including emails, texts, websites, forums, social media and apps.


Examples of harmful communications include using phones to send threatening or offensive messages, publishing threatening or offensive messages online and publishing invasive or distressing photographs or videos.


So what if someone makes a complaint against you for being a bully


Well firstly it is important that you take the complaint seriously. It’s also important that you are made aware of this as soon as possible after the complaint has been made. Depending on the seriousness of the allegation you could be the subject of a formal investigation. If this were the case then you should expect that details of the complaint and the person making the complaint will be provided to you. This could include a copy of the written complaint and any investigation material that has already been made.


You will then be notified of the complaints process and how it will proceed as well your rights which include having a support person present for any or all of your meetings relating to this matter. Your workplace will then instruct you to keep the matter confidential and to ensure that victimisation does not occur in the interim while the matter is still being investigated.


The possible consequences will need to be outlined to you before the investigation reaches a climax so that you are prepared ahead of time for instances where it has been deemed serious enough that you are asked to resign from your position. Interim measures will also be discussed such as ensuring the safety and welfare of the who has laid the complaint, your suspension pending the outcome or reassigning your duties until further notice.


You will have the opportunity to seek advice and support from organisations such your managers, co-workers, your union, Community Law, CAB or the Human Resources team at your work.



How can you make a difference


Bullying in the workplace is never okay and if we see it we should feel confident to stand to it and say something. This can be scary at times and you should only ever say something at the time if it is safe to do so.


You can also report this type of behaviour to your manager or Human Resources team to prevent this from continuing to happen. We all have a responsibility for a safe working environment and when we see something that is unsafe we should always report it.


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