Shape Icon

Employees - What Is Workplace Bullying?

30 August 2019

It can take a lot of courage to stand up to a bully. Their words and actions may have been going on for some time until you just can’t take it anymore. So you’re an employee thinking of taking the big step of making a formal workplace bullying or harassment complaint?

What happens next? Partner at Godfreys Law, Brad McDonald is finding that more people who make complaints are getting lost in the system, not sure what’s happening next. You may be unsure what process is being followed, or more likely a lack of process in your workplace.


Before Making A Formal Workplace Bullying Complaint

Before making a complaint, have a look at your employment agreement. Does it set out how a complaint should be filed? Many workplaces also have policies and procedures set out in another document like an employee handbook.

As an employee, the duty of good faith is a two way street filled with good communication. If you’ve been the victim of bullying or harassment, you should have a chat with your manager or employer before making a formal complaint. There may be an opportunity to nip the problem in the bud, and make alternative working arrangements. If there is no change in behaviour, or you still feel strongly, make your complaint after speaking with your manager or employer.

How To Complain About Bullying

Most workplaces will insist that a complaint is made in writing, and the policies and procedures document should set out who to address your complaint to, as well as what information needs to be provided. When providing examples of workplace bullying or harassment, you need to set out as much information as you can. Give examples of bullying behaviour as well as the dates and times they occurred. In our experience with these cases, it’s no good providing general statements of how the bully has made you feel, or examples of what they have said. Be as specific as you can.

Once a complaint is lodged, an employer has an obligation in law to fully and fairly consider it to see whether a formal investigation is required. Deciding an investigation is needed sets two courses of action into motion. The first, how your employer handles the complaint regarding the accused bully or harasser. Secondly, how your employer handles your complaint, making sure you understand what’s happening, the process that’s being followed, and most important, that you feel safe at work. 

Feeling Safe At Work

This is where we have seen a lot of workplace tension cause issues. At some point during the process, the accused will see the complaints against them and know who has made them. We all have a right to face our accusers. At the same time, employers have a responsibility to treat the accused fairly and with respect. After all, we’re innocent until proven guilty.

If you’re still expected to work with the person you’ve accused of bullying or harassment, ask what alternative working arrangements can be made. Can they change rosters so you don’t work with them? Provide flexible working hours? Access to counselling or remote workspaces?

Following Up On Workplace Complaints

If, once the complaint is made you feel left in the dark and you’re not sure what’s happening, you need to go back to your employer and put any concerns you have in writing. Tell them what answers you need, and when you need them by. Your employer has legal responsibilities under the Employment Relations Act and the Health and Safety at Work Act to respond to your call for help. If your employer doesn’t get back to you within that time frame, pick up the phone and contact the employment team at Godfreys Law.

If you feel unsafe at work, or you have made a complaint and don’t know what process is being followed, we are here to help. Our employment law team at Godfreys Law regularly acts on behalf of employees, and can walk with you through the process so you feel safe and understand what’s happening.

For more information, or a confidential chat with one of our employment team, contact Godfreys Law on 03 366 7469.


Contact Us