Tag Archives: Worksafe NZ

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.

Image from http://888fulcrum.com/
Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,