Bullying and harassment is a serious and common work risk. Studies suggest that between one in five and one in three New Zealand workers report bullying or harassment annually. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) businesses are expected to manage health and safety risks arising from their work as far as is reasonably practicable.

Businesses must recognise that bullying is a health risk and deal with reports of concerns quickly and appropriately, with clear processes in place to do so. It is crucial to have or create a culture that:

  • values people speaking up through having a simple way for people to report concerns
  • builds good relationships and identifies appropriate behaviour
  • has speedy resolution options available.

It is important all businesses provide a means for workers to feel safe reporting concerns about bullying and harassment. The usual business reporting mechanisms may not work for bullying, and businesses need to be flexible about how it is reported to avoid the risk of issues not being raised with them.

As the health and safety regulator, we work to help businesses meet their HSWA responsibilities to keep their workers healthy and safe. We have a bullying prevention toolbox which has information for both businesses and workers about what bullying looks like and what to do about it.

When we look at serious health and safety concerns, our focus is on whether a business is keeping workers healthy and safe so far as is reasonably practicable. Investigation and enforcement action decisions are based on the most serious health and safety risks and harms.

Prosecutions under HSWA require the elements of the Act to be proven beyond reasonable doubt, and for there to be a public interest in it. As a taxpayer-funded government organisation, we are obliged to ensure there is a realistic chance of a successful conviction.

We’re unlikely to intervene in one-off cases. However, WorkSafe may consider intervening where a PCBU has failed to manage significant work-related mental health risks.

Situations that might prompt us to consider intervening include:

  • multiple incidents arising at one PCBU,
  • if a high level of harm resulted from the failure to manage risks, or
  • industry-wide or organisation-wide failings.

We’ll make intervention choices based on our strategic priorities and on whether we are the best placed agency to intervene.

In many cases, people suffering harm should speak to their employer first, using existing employment relations approaches, or should access support such as Employee Assistance Programmes.

Investigations follow a formal, structured process of inquiry to identify any breaches of HSWA. This focuses on business processes to manage the risks rather than determining whether or not somebody is a bully. An investigation process may add further stress to the person raising the concern.

Preventing unreasonable behaviours before harm escalates is better for all.

Because bullying and harassment concerns often involve employment relations issues, the Employment Relations Authority may be best placed for bullying concerns to be raised and remedied. At this point, bullying is a very small proportion of issues raised with us, but we recognise unreasonable behaviours at work are an emerging health and safety issue not only here, but globally.

This is why we are working to provide New Zealand businesses with the means to effectively manage risks to health and safety and to create work cultures that support good health and safety.

We are currently developing our approach to psychosocial harm prevention work programme in line with the Government’s Health and Safety at Work Strategy and our work-related health plan. We also intend to build our competency in mental health and psychosocial harm over time.

Further information 

Preventing and responding to bullying at work (PDF 897 KB)