A firm management style does not constitute workplace bullying

By Russell Drake


Often managers can be placed in a situation where their management style is brought into question with this being considered by the employee to be either micro-management or bullying and harassment. However, a recent Employment Authority case reinforced the mandate managers have to be firm in their style of management with staff.

Ms Briscoe was employed as a health and safety adviser with Oceania Dairy Limited (“Oceania”). Ms Briscoe alleged that she was bullied by her manager, Ms Treloar, and the failure to rectify the situation led her to resign. Ms Briscoe raised a personal grievance for disadvantage and unjustified constructive dismissal. Oceania denied both these claims.

Ms Briscoe claimed she was not treated with dignity and respect by Ms Treloar who had recently replaced the previous human resources manager before Ms Briscoe raised the issue. The Authority looked at some of the concerns Ms Briscoe had about being micro-managed. The Authority was satisfied that Ms Treloar sought to manage Ms Briscoe who was a subordinate and was entitled to give direction to Ms Briscoe and to require an explanation from Ms Briscoe about matters to do with Ms Briscoe’s portfolio. The Authority found that prior to the change in management Ms Briscoe had a “relatively free hand” with her previous manager. Ms Treloar had a different style of management which appeared to be more detailed and focussed, especially in the context of failings within the business. The Authority supported Oceania’s view that managers were entitled to develop their individual managing strategies and Ms Briscoe was not disadvantaged as a result of the actions of Oceania.

The Authority also considered the bullying allegation made by Ms Briscoe. The Authority considered the definition provided by Worksafe New Zealand which described bullying as “repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker….”. The Authority assessed the conduct at the date of the complaint.  The Authority found that at the time Ms Briscoe raised the complaint she had only been working with Ms Treloar for a few weeks and stated that the short working relationship “makes it difficult to contemplate that the conduct complained of was “repeated” as the definition postulates.” The Authority also suggested that the conduct complained of was not unreasonable.  There was no evidence that Ms Treloar was doing anything in her relationship with Ms Briscoe other than trying to get the best possible outcome for wider Oceania staff. The Worksafe definition makes it clear that a manager setting higher standards because of quality or safety issues would not be regarded as bullying. The Authority also considered that just because Ms Briscoe labelled the conduct as bullying did not mean it was bullying.

This case demonstrates that it can be a fine line between an effective management or leadership style being engaged and an unjustifiable approach. As such manager’s need to be aware of how their management style can be perceived by employees and how risk and liability can easy arise.

If you are having difficulty in managing a particular employee situation and believe that they may take offence towards your management style feel free to call us directly to discuss your options.


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