The Employment Relations Authority has upheld claims for personal grievances against two employers of the same employee in relation to claims that she was bullied and harassed at work and was overworked beyond her required hours without compensation.

In relation to the first employer the ERA found than the employer failed to provide a healthy and safe working environment.  The employer had knowledge of bullying and harassment by a manager as well as requirements to work extra hours without pay.  The ERA held that the employer failed to take any real steps to deal with these issues.  The employer was ordered to pay $15,000 compensation for the emotional distress suffered by the employee for the failure to provide a healthy and safe working environment.

In addition, the employer was ordered to pay $6,471 unpaid wages for the extra hours worked over and above the contracted hours.  The employer failed to provide any wage and time records and therefore the ERA accepted the employee’s calculations of the overtime worked.

The employee resigned from that employer and took up employment with a second employer which was part of the same group of companies.  She did this because she thought that the new employer would provide her with fixed hours and a better working environment.  However, that did not prove to be the case and she continued to be subject to an unsafe work environment and requirements to do excessive overtime, which was unpaid.  She was also once again subjected to bullying and harassment.

The employee suffered a breakdown as a result of the conduct of the employer and resigned from her employment claiming constructive dismissal.  This claim was upheld.  She was awarded three months lost wages and $25,000 compensation for the hurt and humiliation, for the failure to provide a safe working environment and for requiring excessive overtime.

Employers need to be aware that they must provide a healthy and safe working environment and that includes safety from bullying and harassment and also overwork.  A failure to take steps to deal with these issues will result in significant compensation awards to employees who suffer as a result of the unsafe workplace.

Alan Knowsley
Employment Lawyer Wellington