The Employment Relations Authority has ordered an employer to pay an employee over $20,000 after it failed to appropriately respond to bullying, leading to the employee’s resignation.

The relationship between the employee and her manager deteriorated due to poor business results from their department.

The manager blamed the employee for the poor performance due to her alleged lack of engagement, and began treating her poorly. The employee complained to higher management.

Initially no action was taken in response to her complaint. After several further complaints the employee was allowed to work from home while an investigation took place. The employee told the employer that she could no longer work with her manager.

As a result of the investigation, the employer told the employee that the relationship could be repaired and that support would be provided as part of a return to work plan.

The employee disagreed, repeating that she could no longer work with the manager, and suggested mediation to resolve the problems. The employer refused, telling the employee to return all company property and placing her on unpaid leave.

The employee felt that the employer had dismissed her and raised a personal grievance.

The Authority held that the employer unjustifiably disadvantaged and constructively dismissed the employee.

The employee was disadvantaged because the employer was made aware of the ongoing bullying, and by failing to respond adequately, it failed to provide a safe workplace for the employee.

The employee was constructively dismissed because the return to work plan was inappropriate in the circumstances, and the employer’s response to the employee raising this, by placing her on unpaid leave, was a situation where it was foreseeable that she might resign.

The Authority accepted this was a situation where the employer “acted in a manner likely to destroy or seriously damage the relationship of trust and confidence between employer and employee.”

The Authority ordered the employer to pay the employee $20,000 in compensation and three months of lost wages.

Where a complaint of bullying is made, it is important that employers follow the correct process, and respond appropriately to the situation. Failure to do so may result in an expensive personal grievance.

If there are concerns around the process that has been followed in response to a complaint of bullying, it is wise to speak with a professional experienced in the area.

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