Harassment and Bullying

As an NZEE member, you are committed to supporting a workplace that is free from violence, bullying, harassment or other unsafe or disruptive conditions. Below are the behaviours you need to be alert to. Employees must be instructed on unacceptable workplace behaviours and anyone experiencing them needs to report it to management and action taken.

Particular care should be taken when having a new employee joining an established team who may well have created a dynamic which suits the team but could negatively impact the new team member.

Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is repeated, and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that can cause physical or mental harm. Bullying can be physical, verbal, psychological or social. This may include victimising, humiliating, intimidating, undermining, or threatening a person.

A single or occasional incident of insensitive or rude behaviour towards another person isn’t considered workplace bullying, but it could become more serious and shouldn’t be ignored."

An individual or group of people can be victims of bullying.

Some examples of workplace bullying:

  • Publicly insulting or humiliating others;
  • Sabotage of a persons or groups work
  • Yelling and screaming abuse or using foul language
  • Being threatened with violence (inside or outside the workplace)
  • Unfair and excessive criticism
  • Inappropriate practical jokes
  • Spreading misinformation and rumours or demeaning slogans, (verbally or written)

Some examples of behaviour that is not workplace bullying:

  • Performance management;
  • Constructive feedback;
  • Miscommunication;
  • Personality clashes or differing opinions and working styles in the workplace;
  • Disagreements



Harassment is belittling or threatening behaviour directed at a person by another person or group, which the person finds offensive or humiliating. It includes the misuse of visual or written material.

The person or group doing the harassment don’t have to be intending to harass for the behaviour to be harassment. Harassment depends on how the person the behaviour impacts is affected by the behaviour.

Sexual and Racial Harassment are prohibited by sections 62 and 69 of the Human Rights Act (1993), and section 108 of the Employment Relations Act (2000).

The Human Rights Act 1993 defines sexual harassment as ‘any unwelcome or offensive sexual behaviour that is repeated or is serious enough to have a harmful effect.”

An employee is racially harassed under the Human Rights Act 1993 if the employer or the employer’s representative uses language (written or spoken) or visual material, or physical behaviour that directly or indirectly:

  • expresses hostility against, or brings the employee into contempt or ridicule, because of their race, colour, or ethnic or national origins of the employee, and
  • this is hurtful or offensive to the employee (even if they don’t let the employer or the employer’s representative know this), and
  • it is so significant or repeated that it has a negative effect on their employment this has a detrimental effect on the employee's employment, job performance or job satisfaction.

A sexual or racial harassment complaint can be made if a particular employee finds something sexually or racially offensive, even if other employees are not offended.

A sexual or racial harassment complaint can be made as a personal grievance under the Employment Relations Act 2000 or as a complaint to the Human Rights Commission under the Human Rights Act 1993. If a person cannot resolve the problem with their employer, they have a choice as to which way they go to take it further - they can’t do both. A complaint under the Employment Relations Act must be made within 90 days. A complaint under the Human Rights Act must be made within 12 months of the incident.

Some examples of harassment in the workplace:

  • Personally, sexually offensive verbal comments
  • Racial slurs, stereotyping based on race or sex
  • Sexual or smutty jokes
  • Repeated comments or teasing about someone’s alleged sexual activities or private life
  • Persistent, unwelcome social invitations, emails, telephone calls from a work mate at work or at home
  • Offensive hand or body gestures
  • Physical contact i.e. patting, pinching, touching or putting an arm around another person’s body
  • Provocative posters (calendars) with a sexual connotation

At its most extreme it can breach the Crimes Act laws against:

  • Sexual assault and rape
  • Racially motivated crime



Tūhana Business and Human Rights is NZEE’s Human Rights Foundation Partner, to help members implement the UNGP framework in their operations and help identify and prioritize the risks they pose to people through their own business operations and supply chain and develop responses that look to prevent, mitigate, or remedy human rights issues.