Safety NOT Guaranteed; Workplace Bullying
The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) recognised the problem of bullying in workplaces as both an industrial relations issue, and a risk to the work health and safety of workers.
The Worksafe NZ Guide for Preventing and Responding to Bullying at Work provides that “workplace bullying is a psychological hazard that has the potential to harm a person, and it also creates a psychological risk as there is a possibility that a person may be harmed if exposed to it.” Just like other risks to health and safety in the workplace, a person conducting a business and undertaking (PCBU) must take steps to eliminate or minimise the risk of bullying.
Under the HSWA, a PCBU has the primary duty of care to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers whilst at work in the business or undertaking. Just as importantly, work health and safety regulators have been granted enforcement powers where there has been a breach of the WHS laws, including those arising from bullying behaviour, although we have yet to see a prosecution in this area.
Employers should be proactive in eliminating or minimising risks of bullying in the workplace and should appropriately manage any complaints of bullying as they arise.
The potential consequences of failing to act on workplace bullying complaints are not limited to the stop-bullying jurisdiction of Employment Court. A safety regulator may prosecute employers for failing to comply with a health and safety duty and penalties will apply for offences.
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