Workplace bullying and harassment a perennial problem


Workplace bullying and harassment (including sexual harassment) is a serious issue for New Zealand, WorkSafe warns

Studies suggest that up to one in three workers report experiencing some form of bullying or harassment each year.

Bullying and harassment allegations or concerns often involve employment relations issues.

The Employment Relations Act and the Employment Relations Authority are often the best place for these concerns to be raised and remedied.

WorkSafe will always have a role in supporting harm prevention activity, although its investigation and enforcement activity is risk-based and targeted at the highest risks and harm.

This means WorkSafe will typically only investigate bullying and harassment claims where there is diagnosis of serious mental harm, consistent with the approach it takes to all risks and harms notified to WorkSafe.

Prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act requires the elements of the act to be proven beyond reasonable doubt and for there to be a public interest in the prosecution occurring.

This is a higher standard than is required for a successful case under the employment relations legislation.

Typically, WorkSafe prosecutes around 1% of all matters brought to our attention.

However, while WorkSafe has investigated nearly 10% of bullying cases it has not yet prosecuted any matter.

Psychosocial risks such as work-related stress, bullying and harassment (including sexual harassment) are a focus of WorkSafe’s 10-year strategic plan for improving work-related health.

This year, part of WorkSafe’s harm prevention work is strengthening worker engagement, participation and representation to create workplace cultures that support good health and safety.

It is also looking at building its strategic approach and capability in work-related psychosocial harm, including workplace bullying and harassment.

Bullying and harassment is a known and common workplace risk.

Managing this risk should be a standard part of every businesses approach to effective management of health and safety.

Like all other health and safety risks, this requires leadership, risk management and engagement to effectively manage.

Businesses must recognise bullying and harassment as a risk and have clear processes in place to handle it – from creating a culture that identifies appropriate behaviour and values people speaking up through a simple way for people to do so and on to a speedy resolution of the allegation.

Bullying is an insidious behaviour and the longer it is left not dealt with, the easier it becomes for the issue to reach crisis proportions.

At this point, bullying is a very small proportion of issues raised with WorkSafe, but it is certainly an emerging issue not only here, but also globally.

From 16 December 2013 to 14 August 2018, WorkSafe has had 159 recorded cases that indicate bullying (it had over 40,000 health and safety incidents or events over this period).

The regulator investigated 13 of the 159 and 65 were either referred to a more appropriate agency (ERA, Police, other) or referred to the PCBU to self-manage.


WorkSafe provides support to businesses and workers dealing with workplace bullying concerns through its Good Practice Guidelines to Preventing and Responding to Bullying at Work guide and bullying prevention toolbox.