New Zealand Law Society - Workplace Bullying

Workplace Bullying

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Reviewed by Kathryn Beck

A book on workplace bullying would not normally be at the top of my summer reading list but this summer, duty called. Was I bullied into doing this review when I would rather have been reading a worthy award winner or riveting thriller, you may ask?

After reading this book I can confidently tell you, no.

I can also say that the read was well worth it. Workplace Bullying attempts to bring some cohesive commentary to what is a complex topic both practically and legally.

It is divided into three parts. The first explores the factors which may give rise to bullying behaviours and examines the nature of bullying. It does this with reference to a significant amount of research that has been undertaken on the topic and manages to pull out key themes and information.

It covers a large area in 50 pages and does it well, although in attempting to cover so much in a (relatively) short space, the effect is a little disjointed. However, it is worth reading (and possibly rereading) — the source material referred to is extensive and provides an excellent repository of current research on the topic.

The second part suggests practices that can be adopted by employers and employees to address bullying, including providing an overview of both parties’ obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. This summary of the Act is particularly useful for employers. However, there is excellent assistance given to employees as well. There is a very practical exercise at page 63 that an employee who is concerned about behaviour that has been directed at them can undertake to enable them or a third party to assess and categorise that behaviour. If all employees followed this format when setting out a complaint of bullying, both employee and employer representatives’ jobs would be much easier.

The third part is a legal overview which sets out how to deal with a bullying complaint both from the employee (briefly) and employer perspective. This section takes the reader from receiving/making an allegation of bullying, assessing appropriate steps, undertaking an investigation right through to what happens if a party is unhappy with the outcome. It does this in a comprehensive and yet easy to read style that will be accessible to all readers — lawyers, HR practitioners and the parties themselves. This includes providing practical guidance on dealing with the various pitfalls and issues that might arise in an investigation with reference to case law and statute.

In the foreword, Judge Graeme Colgan, Chief Judge of the Employment Court, recommends the book to all employment law and HR practitioners along with many others including investigators and decision makers, as containing accessible, sage and practical advice. I agree. This book is very approachable and is structured in a way that enables the reader to easily locate information he/she may be looking for as well as providing further in depth references through useful footnoting. In that way it is useful for practitioners of all levels, although perhaps more so for those at the lower end of the experience scale.

Bullying is something that is, unfortunately, all too common in our workplaces and yet it remains something that is often misunderstood and dealing with it is regarded as prohibitively difficult and emotionally tortuous. This book does an excellent job of removing the spectre around bullying itself and dealing with the anxiety that can come with bullying allegations by setting out practical steps to follow. The contribution it can make to the reduction of stress levels for practitioners in this area makes it a worthwhile read — even over a holiday break.

Workplace Bullying, Thomson Reuters NZ Ltd, 978-0-947486-75-4, October 2016, paperback and e-book, 226 pages, $50 (GST and postage not included).

Kathryn Beck is President of the New Zealand Law Society and a partner of Auckland employment law firm SBM Legal. She has over 25 years of experience in employment law, and alternative dispute resolution and acts as a mediator and facilitator.

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