Mental health and the workplace

General, Health and Safety / 26 October 2023
Mental health and the workplace

Harassment, sexual harassment, and bullying are all workplace risks that must be managed under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and are obligations and potential claims under the Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993.

Recently released statistics from WorkSafe New Zealand show that of the approximate 900 notifications WorkSafe received in the 2022-23 period, exposure to mental health risks (bullying, harassment, and work-related stress) made up 29% (264) of notifications, causing it to be the second biggest reason for notification.

The rise in notifications may be attributable to the current labour climate and growing awareness around mental health risk issues. In light of this, it is important that employers are well placed to recognise their risks in this respect and have clear processes in place to handle them, as it is only a matter of time before notifications of this kind become frequently investigated by WorkSafe.

The issue of mental health is increasingly arising in personal grievance claims too.  In a recent Employment Court case, AJY v Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections [2023] NZEMPC 168, the Departments of Corrections (Corrections) was found to have unjustifiably disadvantaged and unjustifiably dismissed an employee, AJY, in short because it did not respond to a bullying complaint made by AJY and completed a disciplinary investigation to dismiss AJY, failing to consider the impact of AJY’s mental health concerns on their behaviour.

Message for Employers

The best way to ensure you support a mentally healthy workplace is to have comprehensive health and safety managements systems alongside robust Anti-Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination and Wellbeing Policies.

If you require assistance to improve your businesses approach to mental wellbeing, our Mental Health and Wellbeing Toolkit is a great place to start as it provides employers with guidance on dealing with psychosocial hazards in the workplace (i.e., bullying, harassment, work-related stress). The toolkit is available for a fixed price of $2,500 + GST, and includes:

  • Risk Assessment Template and Guidance for Psychosocial Hazards;
  • Mental Health and Wellbeing policy, covering stress management, fatigue and steps that can be taken to identify and manage mental health risks in the workplace; and
  • Anti-Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination Policy, setting out definitions for each of these terms, examples of unacceptable behaviours and a process to follow where an incident arises.

Feel like you might need some training in this area? Our team can also offer a one-hour training session, either in person or virtually at a cost of $1,500 plus GST, covering:

  • An overview of your mental health and wellbeing obligations, including documentation and reporting;
  • How to identify psychosocial risks;
  • Awareness of what constitutes bullying and harassment;
  • What practical steps should be taken;
  • How to manage employees and what support can be offered; and
  • Practical tips on how to manage conflict in the workplace.

Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law, health and safety and immigration topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please seek legal advice from your lawyer for any questions specific to your workplace.


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