Hamilton health company payout $36K in workplace bullying case

Published 22 February 2024

Bringing workplace bullying to light

In a significant ruling, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) has ordered a Hamilton health organisation to pay a former employee $36,000 for failing to ensure her safety from workplace bullying. The case sheds light on the importance of fostering a supportive work environment and addressing employee concerns effectively.

What happened?

The saga unfolded at a Hamilton health provider, where a former personal assistant to the CEO, endured a series of distressing encounters. The employee raised concerns about the behaviour of several colleagues, including the CEO, an HR manager, and a board member. These concerns highlighted a toxic work environment that impacted employee's well-being and work performance.

The employee's allegations painted a picture of mistreatment, ranging from verbal abuse and derogatory remarks to exclusion from meetings and unfair work demands. The harassment took a toll on the employee's mental health, leading to anxiety, stress and eventually, they had to take time off work. Despite the employee's attempts to address the situation, the bullying persisted, causing profound harm to the employee's dignity and confidence.

How did the ERA come to its conclusion?

The legal battle that ensued showcased the complexities of addressing workplace bullying. While the employer maintained that it had addressed the employee's concerns through investigations and mediation, the ERA ruled in favour of the employee, deeming the organisation responsible for failing to provide a safe workplace. The ruling underscored the significance of proactive measures in fostering a culture of respect and support within organisations.

Despite the employer's efforts to address the issue, the ruling highlighted systemic failures in safeguarding the employee's well-being. The case serves as a wake-up call for organisations to prioritise employee welfare and cultivate an environment where concerns are addressed promptly and effectively. While the outcome may be considered a failure for the organisation, it presents an opportunity for growth and improvement in fostering a healthy workplace culture.

In light of this ruling, New Zealand managers, owners, and HR professionals are urged to reassess their approach to handling workplace disputes and employee grievances. Proactive measures, including clear policies on bullying and harassment, robust reporting mechanisms, and comprehensive training for staff and management, are essential in creating a safe and inclusive work environment.

ERA's decision

  • The ERA ruled in favour of the former employee, stating they were unjustifiably disadvantaged at work due to repeated, unreasonable behaviour amounting to bullying.
  • The employee experienced verbal abuse, derogatory remarks, exclusion from meetings, and unreasonable work demands from multiple colleagues, including the CEO, HR manager, and a board member.
  • Despite the organisation's claims of addressing concerns through investigations and mediation, the ERA found it failed to provide a safe workplace.
  • The employee was awarded $36,000 for humiliation, loss of dignity, and injury to feelings due to the psychological harm caused by the bullying.
  • The employer's argument that they were unaware of the extent of the bullying until later investigations was rejected by the ERA.
  • While the ERA dismissed claims of unjustified dismissal due to the filing not being raised within the required timeframe, it emphasised the importance of organisations prioritising employee welfare and fostering a supportive work environment.

The employee's victory against workplace bullying underscores the importance of accountability and empathy in organisational dynamics.

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