Tag Archives: workplace

Beware of belittling

We discussed bullying in an article not so long ago, and workplaces continue to be fraught with bullies and their victims. Thus, we continue our quest to help employers and employees recognise bullying behaviour and deal with it appropriately.

Bullying behaviour may not be instantly recognisable, or you may not be able to point to one particular incident of bullying. Often bullying comprises of an accumulation of many small incidents over a long period of time. Many people do not realise that the unfavourable behaviour directed towards them is “bullying” behaviour. Victims may not want to report the behaviour for fear of not being taken seriously, or being told to “harden up”. Employers may see a victim as being overly sensitive rather than genuinely investigating their concerns. If bullying behaviour is not dealt with appropriately it can have detrimental effects on both the employer and the victim(s). Bullying is not something to be tossed aside and ignored.

Bullying behaviour includes (but is not limited to): 

  • using fowl or offensive language
  • nitpicking, fault-finding or trivial criticism
  • making threats
  • sarcasm, hostility or rudeness
  • interrupting
  • belittling
  • providing instructions without reasonable explanation
  • setting unreasonable goals or deadlines
  • refusing reasonable requests without justification
  • excessive scrutiny
  • refusal to acknowledge contributions or achievements
  • attempts to undermine value and worth
  • isolating, treating differently
  • denying training necessary to fulfil duties
  • initiating disciplinary procedures for trivial reasons

A notable decision of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia is an excellent example of the importance of addressing bullying behaviour appropriately. In Swan v Monash Law Book Cooperative [2013] VSC 326 the employer was ordered to pay a total of just under $600,000 in damages to an employee who had been bullied over a 5 year period. It was found that the employer:

  • failed to properly define relations and expectations concerning workplace conduct;
  • failed to appropriately train employees to deal appropriately with bullying behaviour and complaints;
  • failed to consider appropriate measures to address inappropriate conduct, and a failure to inform the bully that his behaviour was inappropriate;
  • failed to intervene and investigate complaints within a timely manner when complaints were first raised;
  • failed to have a formal structure or complaints mechanism in place for employees to seek assistance when bullying occurred;
  • failed to monitor the situation;
  • failed to have a safe return to work strategy.

The Supreme Court’s decision demonstrates the onerous obligations on employers to ensure a safe and healthy workplace, and the high risks employer face if they do not comply. It is not enough to simply change a victims’ reporting lines, or transfer a bully from one team to another. Bullying can often occur because of a workplace’s culture or lack of policies and procedures addressing suitable and acceptable behaviour. Not only do these policies have to exist, but they need to be implemented appropriately and efficiently.

While New Zealand is slightly lagging behind Australia in relation to health and safety laws, and certainly in terms of compensatory awards in bullying cases, WorkSafe NZ’s bullying guidelines released in February indicate we are following in Australia’s footsteps in recognising the importance of cracking down on bullying behaviour. It is vital that employers have appropriate measures in place to deal with bullies and victims.

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A Weighty Issue

Weight bias and discrimination has the potential to become the new racism. Are you an “obesist”? Or a “fatist” (as they like to call it in my office)?

The reality is that around 1 in 4 New Zealand adults are classified as obese. Obesity is a worldwide epidemic which can have serious consequences for employers and employees. Example: what happens when a job candidate applying to wait tables at your crazy-busy street cafe has stellar credentials, but he is overweight and you worry he won’t be able to keep up with the frantic pace on his feet for 10 hours a day? Can you refuse to hire him because you think he is too large?  obesity

The Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993 govern the grounds of discrimination in the workplace. “Obesity” is not specifically referred to as a prohibited ground for discrimination, but “disability” is. Thus it begs the question – is obesity a disability? Disability is defined as:

  • physical disability or impairment;
  • physical illness;
  • psychiatric illness;
  • intellectual or psychological disability or impairment;
  • any other loss or abnormality or psychological, physiological, or anatomical structure or function;
  • reliance on a guide dog, wheelchair, or other remedial means;
  • the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing illness.

While obesity may not be a “disability” per se, it may be a significant factor in finding that a person has a disability. Another thought to ponder: what if a person’s obesity is a symptom of a medical condition? Should we distinguish between cause and effect?

The UK judiciary have been faced with some difficult cases recently surrounding obesity issues in the workplace. While they have refused to accept obesity is a disability in its own right, they have concluded that an obese person may be disabled if their obesity has a real impact on their ability to participate in work.

In New Zealand, an employer can specify particular physical characteristics only if those characteristics are essential in order to perform the job satisfactorily, or in order to meet safety requirements. There must be a real and genuine reason for doing so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RISKY BUSINESS

safetyIn the past few months the newspapers have been inundated with stories of workplace accidents where employers have been ordered to fork out tens of thousands in fines and compensation.

  • Canpac was ordered to pay $35,000 to an employee who had lost part of her finger in a slitter machine.
  • Centrelink (Australia) was ordered to pay  compensation to an employee who suffered from an anxiety and depressive disorder after being told she was required to work between the hours of 8am – 4pm Monday-Friday.
  • The Court ordered Wealleans Groundspread Ltd to pay over $100k for failing to protect the safety of workers following the death of an employee who was operating a truck adapted to spread fertiliser.
  • Last year, 51 people were killed in workplace accidents in New Zealand.

Proposed changes to the law

Worksafe New Zealand was established to reduce our workplace injury and death toll by 25% by 2020. The incentive arose from the Pike River disaster, in which 29 of our men perished. The Health and Safety Reform Bill is a much-needed piece of legislation to protect the health and safety of our workers. The Bill allows for greater participation from all workers to get involved in health and safety discussions in the workplace. There will be higher legal requirements placed on managers and company directors to manage risk, and to ensure a safe working environment. At present the penalties for non-compliance range from $250k – $500k and 2 years imprisonment. The suggested penalties in the new Bill range from $300k – $3m and up to 5 years imprisonment – plenty of reasons to not be caught short of full compliance.

simpsonsThe Bill means that there can be no passing the buck, nor is there any room for ignorance. Directors and senior managers must be aware of the positive duties imposed on them and their obligations under the new legislation.

Similarly, employees should be aware of health and safety risks/requirements and should raise any concerns with their employer. A worker was recently fired from Top Energy for not following safety procedures. The Employment Relations Authority found that the employer was justified in terminating the employment due to the employee’s failure to follow safety procedures which resulted in a serious situation – his own electrocution. Therefore it is up to everyone in the workplace, not just employers/managers, to ensure safety comes first.

A Focus on Occupational Health

Worksafe also aims to focus on occupational health. You don’t need to be working in a dangerous physical environment for your health to suffer. Workplace hazards which need to be managed include physical, mechanical, biological, chemical and psychological. In particular, there are many psychological stresses on employees, such as:risk assessment

  • Long working hours
  • Large workloads
  • Tight deadlines
  • Work intensification
  • Poor work-life balance
  • Feelings of job insecurity
  • Ageing workforce
  • High emotional demands
  • Learning and adapting to new technology

Directors and managers must recognise and control potential hazards. Education and a broad knowledge of the legal requirements and duties imposed on individuals will be extremely important to avoid accidents or penalties moving forward. Liability will be based on the new standard set to kick in early 2015.

For further information or advice to ensure compliance, contact BuckettLaw – the employment law experts.

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Welcome to the Future

A workplace paradise?

The office of the furture. Source: PSFK

The office of the future. Source: PSFK

You need to find a quiet place to finish some urgent work, where do you go?  A library (where the man next to you sniffs, coughs and turns the page rhythmically)? A cafe (with the play group mums gossiping over screaming children to one side and the “chink chink chink psssshhhhhhhttt” coffee making on another)? You do it late at night, early in the morning, on the commute?

Think about it, we take our workers put them in cubicles in a tall building and expect them to do great work. Or at least hope for good work. But the interruptions are constant. We can’t expect people to sleep well if they are persistently interrupted. How is it any different to the office? How can we expect people to work effectively and efficiently with only short bursts of uninterrupted time?

The worst of these are managers and meetings (confirmed in Remote: office not required). Management is essential, however over-managing can be detrimental to productivity. Control-freak managers who are unable to delegate and must have a handle on every aspect of every employee’s activities are intervening and diminishing productivity. Managers call meetings which are a major distraction. About 10% of meetings are productive and the remaining 90% are unnecessarily boring. How many of us have found ourselves nodding off in meetings where orders are barked around the room between senior management and everyone else is invisible? Meetings should be “treated as a rare delicacy” and only for those few individuals to whom the meeting is relevant.

Reality is that managers and meetings are an evil necessity and that will not change any time soon. So looking ahead to the future of the office, how can we combat these unavoidable interruptions?…

The answers lie ahead

Social media as the modern day smoke break – most projections emphasise the use of social media in employment by integrating treadmill desks, cafe days, managers re-framed as mentors, trees in offices.. the future looks bright.

The Desk Of The Future…

A working platform

A working platform

Embracing the wilderness to help workers de-stress

Embracing the wilderness to help workers de-stress

Could be mobile, might be standing and could even be moving. The worker of the future may enjoy:

  • standing desks
  • treadmill desks
  • open plan desks with sound proofing bubbles
  • outdoor desks
  • talking interactive desks

Cafe days…

… any day.

virtual472

… any time…

...anyday

Work anywhere…

Imagine if one day a week was allocated to a change of environment, a  flexi-work environment, be it in a cafe, a library, on your deck in the sun. Sometimes a change of scenery is good, sometimes motivation and willingness runs out in a certain spot. As Aristotle said, “change in all things is sweet”. As long as the work gets done it shouldn’t matter where it’s getting done. For those who subscribe to the “if I cant see the person how do I know they’re working?” school of though.. get with the programme. These days with technology you can monitor what someone is doing on their computer, require them to log in regularly with updates… there are ways and means.

Out of this world office spaces…

Qihoo-360-Headquarters-by-David-Ho

Qihoo 360 Headquarters, Beijing

dezeen_Google-Tel-Aviv-by-Camenzind-Evolution_ss_15 (1)

Google, California

selgas_cano_office_madrid3

Selgas cano office, Madrid

Google has already hit the mark and other businesses shouldn’t be far off the trail. A vibrant, unique and exciting workspace is a happy & productive workplace. Google’s corporate headquarters “Googleplex” in California is state of the art, housing slides, indoor gardens,

themed social spaces and free onsite coloured bicycles for getting around the complex. The perks of a Google employee include free onsite haircuts, gym facilities, laundry facilities and onsite medical access. Even us New Zealander’s dream of one day being employed by this magical “tend to all of our needs” employer (click here). Give it time,  more and more major businesses will click on to the trend and soon our offices will resemble Disneyland. Here’s hoping.

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Workplace bullying…how to deal

Lessons from Ron Burgundy – dealing with workplace bullies

Freddie Shapp: “You’re on the 2 AM to 5 AM slot.”

Ron Burgundy: “What? That’s the graveyard shift!”

Brick Tamland: “I ain’t afraid of no ghost!”anchorman2

It may take more than a ghost to scare Brick, he’s one tough guy, but he doesn’t cope so well when it comes to bullies. Workplace bullying is responsible for costing kiwi employers tens of millions of dollars every year. According to a joint university study in 2012 one in five kiwi workers suffer from workplace bullying. It’s no surprise bullying costs employers so much when you look at the effects on those targeted, some of which include:

  • high levels of stress;
  • reduced job satisfaction and commitment to the organisation;
  • withdrawal, leading to decreased productivity;
  • decreased concentration,
  • absenteeism and higher staff turnover.

Bullying affects everyone: the victim, their family, their friends, other employees and a business’s reputation. A bully can transform a pleasant workplace into a dreaded climate of fear, frustration and disconnect. Victims may reach out to co-workers to gain sympathy and support, causing a ripple effect throughout the workplace that may have the effect of normalising and enforcing the behaviour. 

Auzzie’s position on workplace bullying

In 2006 the tragic suicide of 19 year old Brodie Panlock in Melbourne spurred placing the issue of workplace bullying firmly on the forefront of Victoria’s legislative agenda.

bullyingBrodie was a waitress who sustained constant bullying from 3 male coworkers, (one of which she was formerly romantically involved with). The boss was aware of the bullying and did nothing to prevent it other than saying to the men, ‘take it out the back’. Among her list of torments she had fish oil poured all over her and in her bag, was spat on and called fat and ugly.

With no specific legislation dealing addressing workplace bullying at the time, the 3 workers pleaded guilty to failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of persons and the boss was found guilty of failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment.  All were fined personally and the boss’s company was fined an extra $220,000 – being $355,000 in total.

The state of Victoria recognized the seriousness of the issue and responded in 2011 by introducing legislation that made workplace bullying a crime punishable up to ten years in jail.

How to deal?

It is important to identify your style of dealing with conflict. In his recent book “Employed But Under Fire” Michael Smyth poses the crucial question, do you fight or flight? His book explains how to use your initial reactions in a positive way to deal with bullying. For some, their immediate response to conflict is to ignore it and walk away, while others stand up and fight. No matter your personality, if you are being bullied you are not alone, and there are options out there. Smyth’s book covers various ways to tackle bullying at work.bully1

Often people are nervous about seeking help, or they may feel their situation doesn’t warrant legal action. Specialists in employment law (such as BuckettLaw) deal with workplace bullies on a daily basis. Seeking legal advice will help you weigh up your options and assess the likelihood of a successful personal grievance claim.

Employers must keep in mind that workplace conditions may trigger or enable bullying. This can include workers knowing that senior staff ignore accusations of workplace bullying, and an overly excessive competitive or stressful work environment may also trigger workplace bullying. The employer DOES become culpable for the bullying once he becomes aware of the problem and will be liable for compensation if the allegations are proven correct. The most important thing for employees and employers to know is that once awareness is raised of a bullying situation, employers have an obligation to investigate the matter and do all they can to stop it. Employees should keep a diary of the incidents of bullying.

Ensuring the happiness and safety of staff ensures a more efficient and productive workplace … so all business should do all they can to combat bullying! We need strong bosses to combat this problem – creating an at work environment where it is very clear that bullying WILL NOT be tolerated.

The Law

Employers may be liable under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 for failure to address bullying allegations where stress is identified as a workplace hazard. If complaints are ignored, the employer is failing to take practicable steps to ensure a safe workplace environment.

It is important for employees to know that discrimination in the work place on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation etc. is prohibited under the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993.sos bully

There are plenty of cases out there where judges rule in favour of the victims of workplace bullying. In Corbett v UDP Shopfitters LTD the Employment Relations Authority found the applicant was subjected to prolonged abuse by co-workers, which fell outside acceptable banter. This was based on the definition that bullying and harassment is “something that has happened that is unwelcome, unwarranted and causes a detrimental effect”. Corbett claimed his supervisor would swear at him and abuse him, and another supervisor also abused him making derogatory remarks about his Irish Nationality. The employer failed to take action after being told of the abuse, telling Corbett to “suck it up”.  The employer was ordered to pay Corbett $3,161 reimbursement of lost wages and $10,000 compensation.

In August 2012 the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry’s labour group began consulting with a variety of agencies to create a best-practice guideline. This is the closest the government has come to directly addressing workplace bullying, without so far as to formally introducing a code of practice or amending legislation. We are desperately awaiting arrival of this guideline.

There will always be bullies – there will always be those who are jealous or feel threatened by the capabilities of someone in a lower position than themselves. There were bullies at kindergarten and there will be bullies at work. But awareness is increasing and people are not standing by and letting them get away with it. Make some noise, and help us at BuckettLaw help you.

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2014 – Horse around and be productive

The horse is a showy beast with an unremitting Imagedesire to be challenged, to progress and triumph. 2014 is the year of the horse – a sign of speedy success, a time to shine, to ride to your destination.  Christmas holidays have come and gone, the New Year celebrations can’t carry on, we’ve all had a little too much to drink over the past few weeks and we are back to the confines of the office, still pasty, left to gaze at the sunshine outside and remember the holiday that was… It is easy for the post-holiday blues to set in, leaving us feeling discouraged and disheartened. But tis the year of the horse! We must grab hold of the reins and canter ahead.

8 Tips for Workplace Productivity in the New Year & summer months 

1. Start your year over

Already broken your New Years resolutions? Feeling pessimistic? Simply begin the year again. If you have already slipped back into bad habits, reassess your way of thinking and start again today. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again. Attitude is key – try bringing your positive holiday energy back into the work place and infect your co-workers with your optimism.

2. Set goals

No matter what stage of your career you have reached, there is always room for improvement. Once again, a positive attitude will assist you in setting achievable goals. Assume success and have confidence that your goals will be reached. Be ambitious, focus on a new project.  Anticipate needs around your workplace and aim to satisfy those needs by using your initiative. Push your boundaries in order to work harder and smarter. To achieve that raise or promotion you shouldn’t have to increase your work hours. By working smarter and more efficiently during work hours you can increase productivity and job satisfaction. Concentrate on one thing at a time, or one thing per day to ensure you stay focused on particular goals.

3. Get physical

The abundance of daylight hours in January leaves no excuse for laziness. Enhance your personal wellbeing by getting physical. Get outside on your breaks and lap up the sunshine. A change in routine will bring positive results. ImageIf you usually exercise in the evening, try an early morning jog, or organise a team of workmates for a game of touch rugby at the park during your lunch break. We all know exercise boosts our energy levels, de-stresses and increases productivity. Make the most of our stunning summer days – get outdoors and get physical.

4. Eat well & hydrate

Peaches, sweet corn, nectarines, cucumber, spinach, apples, plums, apricots, beans, avocados, cherries, limes, melons, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, beetroot and tomatoes are all in season over the summer months. Eat them! It is so easy to make healthy food choices with an abundance of fruit and veg available. Kick start 2014 with these nutritious options and set a high standard for the rest of the year. Drink water and lots of it. If you are getting bored with plain water, add fresh lime, or invest in a SoadSparkle for the office. Your mind and body will love you for it (as will your boss).

5. Get to work earlier

With the cloudless blue sky luring us outside it is understandable to want to finish work early and head to the beach. Why not see if you can start work earlier and finish up earlier? If this is not possible, get to work bright and early and accomplish all of the important tasks first thing in the morning when you are at your most productive. This way you should, at the very least, not be slogging away in the evenings. You can’t do everything in a day and the sun will rise tomorrow whether or not you have finished your tasks.start-being-more-productive

6. Spring clean

There’s no point in waiting 9 months for your next spring clean: begin 2014 with a workplace makeover. Getting a head start by organising you work space will increase productivity and help reduce stress. A clean and orderly environment will keep you organised and efficient throughout your hectic day. Go through the stacks of paperwork towering in the corners of the room and take time to consider whether you really need to keep that manual from 2007. De-clutter your computer, make folders for documents you will reuse and remove everything else. Make the time to organise, rearrange and tidy now, and save time in the long-run.

7. Improve relationships

Positive workplace relationships are crucial to promote teamwork, morale and productivity. There is no better time to focus on improving relationships and communication than the beginning of a new year. Keep lines of communication open by making yourself available and freely conversing with others. Ask your boss how you can improve. Cooperate with co-workers and make an effort to be an interested observer. Do not assume anything – always ask, “why?” This will encourage others to communicate more effectively while improving interactions and understanding.

8. Be productive outside of work

Keep busy with the outdoor activities New Zealand has to offer over the summer months. Filling your evenings and weekends with social events and keeping a healthy work/life balance is sure to increase your happiness, which should reflect in your work. Embrace networking opportunities and encourage your colleagues to be social. There are free activities offered throughout the country such as the St John’s Bar outdoor cinema in Wellington, Music in Parks and Movies in Parks in Auckland, the Saturday Night Market in Christchurch just to name a few. Get out, horse around and be productive.

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