Bullying in the workplace 

How can I tell whether bullying is taking place in my workplace?

Bullying behaviours can include:

  • constant put-downs, especially when it’s done in public 
  • frequent nit-picking and fault-finding, always discounting what the other person says 
  • using threatening language 
  • refusal to acknowledge the target’s contributions and achievements 
  • refusing to allow an employee to take the breaks they are entitled to 
  • frequent embarrassing comments about an individual’s appearance 
  • being singled out and treated differently (worse) from work colleagues 
  • being overloaded with work, or having most of it taken away 
  • making threats about job security

Back to top

I’m being targeted by a bully at work - what can I do?

If you believe you are being bullied, try to get moral support from colleagues, friends or family. Keep a record of each incident (and note who else was present at the time) and bring it to the attention of your employer. Follow it up with a letter which outlines what has been discussed, and any actions which were agreed to.

If you aren’t comfortable talking to your employer, you could talk to your trade union representative or the health and safety officer (because bullying is an issue of workplace health and safety) at your work, and ask them to talk to your employer.

Alternatively, you may find it easier to write your employer a letter based on the information you have noted down. 

If your employer doesn’t take action it might be appropriate to start a personal grievance procedure against them for either subjecting you to bullying behaviour, or for lack of action over your complaint against a bully.

Another option, if you believe you were targeted because of discrimination against your gender, age, religious, political or ethical beliefs, race, marital, family or employment status, sexual orientation, or a disability, is to lay a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.

If you want to resign try to avoid do so at least until you have received advice (e.g. from your union, your lawyer or Community Law Centre). You can also contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau for advice and support.

Back to top

As an employer, what can I do to prevent bullying behaviour in my workplace?

The Health and Safety at Work Act and the Employment Relations Act require employers to create a safe and secure working environment for their employees (as well as any contractors, sub-contractors or visitors to the workplace) and take all reasonable practicable steps to avoid exposing employees to unnecessary risk of physical or psychological harm.

This includes an obligation to: 

  • provide any information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect the workers from being put at risk in the workplace;
  • monitor the health of the workers and conditions at the workplace, to prevent injury or illness;
  • appoint a health and safety representative (HSR) if you have 20 or more workers and one or more workers has requested it.

If you’re an employer or manager, you can:

  • have systems in place to deal with complaints about workplace bullying  
  • encourage a workplace culture which does not tolerate bullying or harassment, where everyone understands what harassment and bullying are, and why it’s not on    
  • consider nominating a member of your staff (e.g. an HR advisor – someone who can be unbiased) to whom employees can go if they are being bullied or have concerns about someone else being bullied  
  • find an organisation which specialises in providing anti-bullying training, and host a session at your workplace.

You can view and download some bullying prevention tools from WorkSafe New Zealand.