General Employment Problems

The Department of Labour has a telephone helpline 0800 20 90 20. The staff are skilled and competent. They can answer most factual questions and are usually able to quote the relevant sections of the legislation that applies.

The Department of Labour also maintains websites at :

For specific employment enquiries, is the most useful. It gives a lot of general information about the Employment Relations Act and the general principles which underpin it, and also gives comprehensive and detailed information about workers and employers rights and responsibilities.

The site also sets out the process through which employment problems are resolved, and provides a flowchart showing the steps of the personal grievance process, from formulation of the grievance, notification of the employer, filing with the Employment Relations Authority, mediation by the Employment Relations Service, investigation by an Authority member, and eventual determination. It provides fairly detailed and comprehensive information and advice about each of the stages in the process

In addition, the site provides some limited information about taking the matter further if either side is not satisfied with the Determination of the Employment Relations Authority. I think taking matters to the Employment Court, the High Court, the Court of Appeal, or the Supreme Court (all of which are theoretically possible) would be bloody minded to the point of stupidity.


Discrimination on the basis of:

  • gender
  • colour, race or national origin
  • age
  • religious belief
  • ethical belief
  • sexual orientation
  • disability
  • family status
  • marital status
  • political opinion

is prohibited under the Human Rights Act.

Complaints of discrimination in the workplace or which relate to employment can be addressed either through the Personal Grievance process by the Employment Relations Authority, or by a complaint to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) under the Human Rights Act. For discrimination cases, the Human Rights Commission route is more popular, because the HRC provides a more comprehensive and “complainant friendly” service.

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) is an independent body that administers the act and promotes and protects the rights of individuals. They have a helpline 0800 496 877 which provides information and also receives complaints.

The HRC helpline is staffed by highly qualified and skilled mediators, who have a different function from the mediators employed by the Department of Labour under the Employment Relations Act. The HRC mediators actively investigate and attempt to resolve complaints. They help complainants formulate their complaints, make contact themselves with the people or organisations complained about, assist them to respond, and then attempt to mediate between the parties.

If mediation is unsuccessful in resolving the complaint, the HRC has it’s own legal section, headed by it’s Director of Proceedings, who may take the complaint to the Human Rights Review Tribunal on the complainant’s behalf.

The HRC maintains a website at which provides easy to understand information about the process.

Bullying and Harassment

The most widely accepted definition of Bullying and Harassment is “unwarranted and unwanted behavior that a person finds offensive, intimidating, or humiliating, and is repeated so as to have a detrimental effect on a person’s dignity, safety, and well being”. The behavior has to be either a very serious “one off”, or to be repeated.

Bullying and harassment is not specifically prohibited by the Employment Relations Act, but employers must take effective action to prevent bullying as part of their general duty to provide a psychologically safe and healthy workplace for employees.

Bullying or harassment in the workplace has been repeatedly held to be a danger in terms of the Health and Safety in Employment Act, and a contravention of an employer’s duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace.

Although physical assaults do occur in some workplaces (and are just as serious a criminal offence in that setting as they are everywhere else), most workplace bullying is psychological. My background in counselling and has given me particular sensitivity to the psychological effects of workplace bullying.

A number of NZ organisations maintain websites relating to Workplace Bullying. These sites in turn are linked to many others providing information and self help advice.