Experts call for better protection against workplace bullying

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The embattled Auckland Council was dealt another blow over the weekend following new claims of bullying by a staffer – and the high profile case has led calls that there are not enough legislative controls in New Zealand to address workplace bullying.

 According to one expert, the case has highlighted New Zealand’s legislative weaknesses regarding workplace bullying and showed that the issue needed to be taken more seriously by lawmakers.   “There is a clear need for better information for employers about the nature of bullying, its impacts, and how to manage it. Too often good staff have no option but to quit while the bully remains protected by top management,” Professor Tim Bentley from Auckland University of Technology’s New Zealand Work Research Institute said.

Dr Bevan Catley from Massey University’s Healthy Work Group said he was concerned about suggestions that such behaviour could be described as a management style. “Hopefully, the current situation prompts senior management at the council to reflect on how they want people to treat one another in the workplace – is this the kind of thing they wish the organisation to be known for?” Catley commented.

Claims of bullying at the Auckland Council highlight the huge human and financial cost of bullying in the workplace, and proved that New Zealand’s regulatory agencies don’t take the problem seriously enough, Catley said. “We are well behind Australia, where some states have already criminalised workplace bullying, while others have a code of practice. The federal government has also started the process of implementing a nationwide code of practice.”

The Healthy Work Group also believes the New Zealand government should follow suit, and that a New Zealand approved code of practice should be developed  because there is currently no government policy or regulatory framework that specifically addresses workplace bullying, Catley said.

Currently, there are difficulties with taking a case of workplace bullying under the Employment Relations Act or the Health and Safety Employment Act because neither recognise the role that workplace structures and processes can have in encouraging bullying, he said. “An approved code of practice would be a good step, especially if there is no political will to amend the legislation. While it doesn’t govern the decisions of the courts, an approved code of practice gives the judiciary some guidance when making rulings because they can see what is considered good practice.”

The Healthy Work Group’s research found that many employers would be keen to have a code of practice made available because they recognise a lack of expertise in dealing with bullying, he said. “If a company realises it has a problem, but doesn’t know how to deal with it, they have three options – try and do the best they can themselves, get a consultant in, or do nothing. If there was an approved code of practice available, they could easily adopt it and customise it,” Catley added.


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