Problems in the workplace 

I am being sexually harassed at work. What can I do?

Sexual or racial harassment in the workplace is illegal. You shouldn’t have to put up with any behaviour that makes you uncomfortable at your workplace. Whether you are dealing with sexual or racial harassment in the workplace, the steps you should take are the same.

If you feel able to, ask the person who is offending you to stop the behaviour, or talk to your employer about what is happening. Alternatively, you can ask someone to speak on your behalf e.g. your union representative. You and your employer can use mediation to help resolve the issue. More information about mediation is on our resolving employment disputes page.

If your employer is sexually or racially harassing you (or they are allowing another employee to harass you), you can raise a personal grievance or complain to the Human Rights Commission (HRC).   

A complaint to the HRC lets you resolve the issues of harassment directly with the person who is harassing you. A personal grievance is taken against your employer for sexually or racially harassing you or for their failure to prevent you from being harassed.

It is a good idea to seek legal advice (such as from a Community Law Centre) before deciding whether to make a claim to the HRC or raise a personal grievance. This is an important choice because you cannot make a complaint to the HRC and apply to the ERA for resolution of the grievance.

You can also read our page on Bullying in the workplace.

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What should I do if I am being bullied at work?

Bullying is an abuse of power that undermines, humiliates, or injures the recipient. Bullying behaviour in the workplace can take different forms - workplace bullying in any form is unacceptable and you should not have to put up with it. Your employer has a duty to provide you with a safe workplace free from bullying.

You can find more information about dealing with this situation on our Bullying in the workplace page.

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My employer treats me differently from my colleagues because I’m not from New Zealand. What can I do about this?

Treating an employee (or fellow employee) differently at work because of your nationality, your ethnicity, your colour or your race, is discrimination and is illegal.

The first step would be to have a discussion with your employer and give them an opportunity to hear your concerns and rectify the situation. 

If you are not happy with the outcome then you can seek mediation through the The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, raise a personal grievance against your employer, or make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission (HRC). Note that you cannot both take a personal grievance to the ERA and lodge a complaint with the HRC. You will have to decide which option is best for you.        

A complaint to the HRC lets you resolve the issues of discrimination directly with the person who is discriminating against you. A personal grievance is raised against your employer for discriminating against you, or for their failure in preventing you from being discriminated against. 

Before making the decision about which step to take, you may like to seek some free legal advice through your local Citizens Advice BureauCommunity Law Centre, or with your union representative (if you belong to a trade union).

For information about other prohibited (illegal) grounds for discrimination in the workplace, visit our Discrimination and the Human Rights Act page.   

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I'm being mistreated by my employer but I’m afraid to say anything in case he reports me to Immigration. What can I do?

Migrants who are working unlawfully (without the appropriate work visa), and those on temporary work visas, can be especially vulnerable to exploitation. An employer might think they can get away with abusing their employee, because the threat of deportation is enough to prevent their victims from reporting it.

As a migrant worker you have the same employment rights as other workers in New Zealand, and it is unlawful for an employer to exploit you (e.g. by not allowing you your minimum employment rights).

You can call: 

  • 0800 209020 to talk to someone at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Labour Contact Centre or to make a complaint about how your employer treats you at work. The Labour Inspectorate will assess your complaint and work with Immigration New Zealand to decide whether to take action against your employer
  • 111 if you feel that your personal safety is at risk
  • Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 to make an anonymous complaint

If you are an unlawful worker or on a temporary work visa, it’s important to know you won’t necessarily be automatically deported if you report your employer to the Labour Contact Centre. You may be able to stay in New Zealand and apply for a new visa while your complaint is under investigation.

You’ll find more information about migrant exploitation - in various languages - on the Immigration NZ website.   

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I’ve had a lot of health problems lately and I’m worried that my employer will fire me.  What does the law say about this?

An employer is entitled to dismiss an employee with a long-term sickness or injury if it makes the employee incapable of doing their job.  

However your employer is required, by law, to be ʺfair and reasonableʺ in deciding whether to dismiss you, in the process they take to do so. What is fair and reasonable will depend on the circumstances of each case.  

When deciding whether to dismiss you, your boss should consider factors such as how long you have been in your job, the nature of your illness or injury, your prospects for recovery, and whether there are any alternatives to dismissal.  

They should also let you know in advance that your job might be in jeopardy due to your illness or injury, and give you the opportunity to seek independent advice and third party representation in meetings with your employer. Your employer will be obliged to act in accordance with any clauses in your employment agreement relating to dismissal and long term illness and injury.   

If you feel you have been treated unfairly in the decision to dismiss you or in the process that was followed, you can challenge the dismissal by raising a personal grievance.

For more information about dismissal on the grounds of medical incapacity, visit the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Employment website or contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.        

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What is a personal grievance?

A personal grievance is a type of formal complaint that an employee might make against their employer or former employer, if the matter hasn’t been resolved through talking to the employer about it.

You can raise a personal grievance to complain about things like:

  • unjustified dismissal: if you have been fired or made redundant and you don’t think the employer followed the correct process for doing this (read more about dismissal);
  • unjustified disadvantage: actions your employer has taken that you think are unjustified and are causing you disadvantage. For example, if you think you are not receiving the benefits that you are entitled to under your agreement, or your employer is failing to put a stop to bullying in the workplace. Unpaid wages or holiday pay could be unjustified disadvantages, but there are other legal ways of dealing with these issues, such as reporting it to a labour inspector;
  • discrimination: you are being treated unfairly because of your age, gender, sexuality, race, religion, ethical belief, marital status or any of the other prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993 (read more about discrimination);
  • racial harassment: you have been mocked for your race or racially insensitive comments were made about you;
  • sexual harassment: an employer, work colleague or customer makes unwelcome requests for sex or sexually suggestive comments;
  • duress relating to an employee’s membership or non-membership of a union, ie you are being put under pressure for being a member, or not being a member, of a union.

The full list of grounds for raising a personal grievance are on the Employment New Zealand website.

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How do I raise a personal grievance?

To raise a personal grievance you have to tell your employer what the problem is - what they did  or didn’t do - to cause the grievance (for example, what was done incorrectly) and what you would like them to done to remedy your grievance.

Note that if you were employed under a trial period, you won’t be able to raise a personal grievance for an unjustified dismissal - but you can still raise a personal grievance on other grounds.

It is a good idea to raise your personal grievance in writing, and keep a copy yourself. Before raising a personal grievance, it is a good idea to first seek legal advice, from your nearest Community Law Centre, or other expert such as your union representative.

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What happens after I raise a personal grievance?

After you have raised the personal grievance with your employer, your employer should investigate the complaint and take appropriate action to remedy it.

If this doesn’t happen, or if your employer decides there are no grounds for your personal grievance, or then either party can begin the dispute resolution process. This can include mediation and / or an application to the Employment Relations Authority.

If the matter is to go to the Employment Relations Authority, the proceedings have to start within three years of having raised the personal grievance.

More about this is on our Resolving employment disputes page.

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Is there a time limit for raising a personal grievance?

A personal grievance must be raised within 90 days of the employer’s action that caused the grievance or when that action came to your attention, for example, when your employer told you they were dismissing you.

If it has been more than 90 days you may still be able to raise a personal grievance if the employer has agreed to it, or you can apply to the Employment Relations Authority to be allowed to raise a personal grievance after the 90 day period. They may allow this if there have been ‘exceptional circumstances'.