In 2008, a young woman completed her teaching degree and obtained a job working for a Maori Trust as a career coach.  However, from the start, things did not go well in her new job.  From her perspective, she felt that not everyone at work appreciated her.  Other staff thought that another person should have been appointed to the position, partly because “she did not look Maori enough.”  These feelings caused tension between staff members, and relations deteriorated between the young woman, other staff and managers at the Trust.

In the midst of this, the young woman made several complaints to the Trust, including claims she had experienced racism and bullying from other staff members.

She suffered breakdowns while working at the Trust and she claimed that they were related to the stress she experienced at work because of the bullying.

The young woman filed a personal grievance stating that she had been disadvantaged due to bullying and that the Trust had not provided her with a safe working environment.

The Employment Relations Authority ruled on this matter and agreed that she had been unjustifiably disadvantaged.  The Authority said that the Trust had not investigated and brought to a conclusion the many complaints the employee made.  Of interest, the Authority indicated that had the Trust actually carried out a proper investigation it may have found that there was no basis for the employee’s complaints.

Since the Trust had not carried out a proper, or in fact, any investigation, the Authority awarded the employee $15,000 compensation for hurt, humiliation and distress.  In addition, the Trust had to pay $6,000 towards the employee’s legal fees.

This case is a good example to show that an employer must carry out a proper investigation if a complaint is laid by an employee.  Had the Trust done this, it probably would have found that there was no basis for the claims of bullying or racism and it may have saved paying out $21,000 along with its own legal costs.

It is important that if you receive a complaint of bullying, harassment, or other unwelcome behaviour from an employee that you investigate and deal with the issue properly.  Not doing so can prove to be very time consuming and costly.

For information on how to deal with this type of issue and carry out a robust investigation, call Alan Knowsley.