The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa recently provided feedback on MBIE’s Bullying and Harassment at Work Issues Paper to help shape upcoming changes to the way agencies will address bullying and harassment at work.
The Law Society’s Employment Law Committee noted that the legislation relating to bullying and harassment at work is spread across a number of statutes and fails to provide a clear avenue for addressing and resolving bullying and harassment complaints. In addition, the current employment relations pathways do not work well because they do not address the root causes of bullying and harassment or ensure that an employee can continue their employment without being bullied or harassed.
The submission also acknowledged that some individuals need to overcome additional barriers before they can access support and information. This includes language barriers, not having internet access, being unable to afford legal advice or being reluctant to seek support because their work visa is sponsored by the alleged perpetrator.
Smaller and less-resourced organisations may also find it particularly challenging to provide adequate training for workers and managers, and have effective systems and robust policies in place to assist workers in identifying options and knowing how to escalate issues.
The submission therefore makes a number of recommendations to enable workers and employers to more easily access support and resolve matters before they escalate. These include:
- Having one central government agency that is responsible for providing simple, accessible and easy-to-use resources which are complainant-focussed but also give clear guidance to organisations.
- Providing complainants easy access to guidance about options to prevent and reduce harm and to feel safe in coming forward and reporting incidents.
- Making available resources that focus on preventative measures, such as building an inclusive culture where bullying and harassment cannot thrive, and low-level interventions to prevent unacceptable conduct from escalating.
- Having internal champions to help workers raise issues before they escalate, and engaging independent parties to assist with resolving matters where appropriate.
- Introducing a framework to regulate the training, qualifications and conduct of non-lawyer advocates who represent workers, employers and alleged perpetrators.
- Placing a greater focus on the inter-personal aspect of mediation, and reducing the use of phone mediations.
- Increasing the resources of the Employment Relations Authority and MBIE Mediation Services so both institutions are well-equipped to promptly deal with matters relating to bullying and harassment.
The submission noted the upcoming implementation of amendments to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008 which clarify the standards of behaviour expected of lawyers when engaging with clients and colleagues and introduce new reporting requirements to ensure there is an appropriate regulatory response. The amendments will come into force on 1 July 2021.
The Law Society thanks members of its Employment Law Committee for contributing to the Law Society’s submission.