The spotlight has returned to the prevalence of bullying in our workplaces, with WorkSafe estimating that one in three Kiwis reports workplace bullying every year.

Following from our two-part series where we break down what the law says about bullying and how bullying complaints should be investigated, this article discusses the possible remedies that are available to victims of workplace bullying under the Employment Relations Act 2000.

Investigating a complaint of bullying and the risks of not doing so

The first port of call is for a victim of workplace bullying to raise a complaint with their employer and for this complaint to be investigated.  It may be appropriate to appoint an independent investigator to investigate the allegations.  The risk for employers who fail to adequately address such complaints is liability under the Employment Relations Act 2000, Health And Safety At Work Act 2015 and, in some cases, the Human Rights Act 1993. 

If an employee’s complaint is ignored or not properly investigated, the employee can take formal action against their employer.  The options for formal action include raising a personal grievance, complaining to WorkSafe, attending mediation or making a claim in the Employment Relations Authority (“ERA”).

Breakdown of possible awards

An employee who brings a successful claim in the ERA may be entitled to claim against their employer for the following:

  • The reimbursement of wages lost as a result of the employer’s actions, for example, if the employee cannot attend work or is forced to resign;
  • Compensation for hurt, humiliation and loss of dignity;
  • Compensation for the costs incurred in taking steps to defend their legal rights.

The amount of compensation received for hurt and humiliation will vary based on the severity of the harm suffered by the employee and the degree to which the actions of the employer contributed to that harm.

Although some employees may be assisted by monetary compensation, it is important for victims of bullying to ensure they are also accessing the appropriate services to support their well-being.

Case example

This is a developing area of law and we are seeing a range of awards, the value of which is dependent on the defining circumstances of each case.

In a recent ERA case[1], the ERA ordered Harbour View Rest Home to pay over $20,000 in compensation to their former employee, Kayla Miller.  Ms Miller, who was working as a care assistant, had been the victim of workplace bullying for over one year.  Although she raised issues with her employer and gave specific examples of the behaviour that amounted to bullying, Harbour View Rest Home did not investigate Ms Miller’s complaints or offer her any support. 

The ERA found she was constructively and unjustifiably dismissed and accepted her claim that her complaints were never investigated.

The breakdown of Ms Miller’s award is:

  • $3,091.00 for lost wages awarded for the period between the end of Ms Miller’s employment until she found new employment;
  • $15,000 for the hurt and humiliation suffered by Ms Miller, taking into account the effects of the constructive dismissal and the employer’s behaviour on Ms Miller; and
  • $4,500 as a contribution to the legal fees incurred by Ms Miller in bringing her claim. This is equal to the daily tariff for a one day hearing in the ERA.

For more information

No matter what stage you are at, we can assist you with the process ahead and ensure your legal rights are protected.

For more information on these matters, or to discuss your options for formal action, please talk to our employment experts on 04 472 0020 to discuss your options and how we can achieve the best outcome for you.

[1] Miller v Harbour View Rest Home (2005) Limited [2020] NZERA 172.

Workplace Bullying series:

Workplace Bullying - Employment Lawyers