Examples of bullying behaviour

Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers. It can lead to physical or psychological harm.

The six scenarios below provide examples of what bullying at work is and what it is not. Click on each scenario to read about different bullying at work experiences and what the person did to deal with and stop the bullying behaviour.

Jane's story...

Jane recently started working for an insurance business. Her colleague Mike, who she works closely with, has repeatedly been subtly insulting and intimidating her during her work day. This is negatively affecting Jane's productivity and psychological wellbeing.

Here are some of the ways Jane can deal with the bullying behaviour:

  • Seek advice and support
  • Deal with it herself
  • Report the behaviour to her organisation
  • Make a formal complaint to her organisation.

Page 8 of Bullying at work: advice for workers has more information about ways to deal with bullying behaviour [PDF 603 KB]

Jane decides to talk to one of her colleagues about Mike's behaviour. The colleague agrees that Mike's behaviour is not appropriate. Jane decides to talk to her manager about Mike's behaviour because she doesn't feel safe approaching him directly.

Making a formal complaint

Jane approaches her manager and talks about the unreasonable behaviour she has repeatedly been experiencing from Mike. Her manager thanks Jane for coming forward and decides to get an independent reviewer (eg another manager or HR representative) to investigate further.

Below are some of the options Jane can take while she waits for her manager to address her complaint:

  • Seek support from other managers, colleagues, Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) or her union
  • Access her employee assistance programme (if available)
  • Contact an external support helpline.

Page 10 of Bullying at work: advice for workers has more information about what should happen when you make a formal complaint [603 KB]

Resolving workplace bullying complaint

After meeting with Mike, Jane and other witnesses, the independent reviewer decides to complete a formal investigation into the bullying complaint. After completing the investigation the reviewer shares their findings with Jane’s manager which concludes that Mike’s behaviour towards Jane was unacceptable.

Mike, Jane and their support people agree to mediation which results in Mike ceasing his unreasonable behaviour towards Jane. Mike is also given a formal warning as a result of the investigation into his behaviour.

Page 11 of the Bullying at work: Advice for small businesses has more information about steps a manager can take to resolve a workplace bullying complaint [PDF 543]

Where to go for help if you can't resolve a workplace bullying complaint

Jane is satisfied with the outcome of her bullying complaint and her organisation’s investigation into Mike’s behaviour. However, if she had not been able to resolve her complaint internally she could have contacted an external agency for advice.

Here are some external agencies that Jane could contact for advice if she was not happy with the outcome of the internal investigation:

Page 12 of the Preventing and responding to bullying at work good practice guide has more information about contacting an external agency for advice [PDF 603KB]

Wiremu's story...

Wiremu is doing a building apprenticeship with a construction firm - John’s building company. Recently John has begun to repeatedly attack Wiremu’s cultural beliefs and constantly criticises his work without offering any help or support.

Below are some of the options Wiremu can take to deal with John’s bullying behaviour:

  • Seek advice and support
  • Deal with it himself

Page 8 of Bullying at work: Advice for workers has more information about ways to deal with bullying behaviour [PDF 603 KB]

What to do if you're being bullied

Wiremu talks to John about his behaviour and how it is making him feel. John disagrees with Wiremu and says that’s how he treats everyone.

Below are some of the other options Wiremu could take:

  • Get a support person to come with him to meet with John.
  • Ask someone he trusts to approach John for him.

Page 9 of Bullying at work: Advice for workers has more about these options [PDF 603 KB]

Because Wiremu is the only employee in the company and approaching John directly did not resolve the issue internally, he decides to see what other options are available to him.

Where to find help if you can't resolve a bullying complaint internally

Wiremu contacts the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s free mediation service on 0800 209 020. The mediator gets in contact with John who agrees to meet for mediation with Wiremu to try resolving his complaint.

The mediation helps John to realise the significant effect his behaviour has been having on Wiremu and he agrees to stop criticising Wiremu’s cultural beliefs and support him in his work.

Below are some other options that Wiremu could have taken after trying to resolve the bullying complaint internally:

Karen's story...

Karen works for a sales company and has been receiving abusive e-mails from an unhappy customer. Karen has tried to resolve the issues with the customer but now has started to receive repeated threatening e-mails.

Below are some of the options Karen can take to deal with the customer’s bullying behaviour:

  • Seek advice and support
  • Deal with it herself
  • Report the behaviour to her business.

Page 8 of Bullying at work: Advice for workers has more information about ways to deal with bullying behaviour [PDF 603 KB]

Karen shows her colleague some of the e-mails to see if she thinks the behaviour is abusive and threatening. Her colleague agrees and Karen decides to tell her manager about the on-going threatening e-mails she has been receiving from the customer.

What to do if you're being bullied

Karen’s manager opens an investigation into the threatening e-mails and asks Karen for all the communication records from the customer. Her manager also asks the ICT department to place a block on Karen’s computer so the e-mails are re-directed away from her inbox.

Below are some of the options Karen can take while she waits for her manager to address her complaint:

  • Seek support from other managers, colleagues, Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) or her union
  • Access her employee assistance programme (if available)
  • Contact an external support helpline.

Page 18 of Bullying at work: Advice for workers has more about these options [PDF 603 KB]

After investigating Karen’s complaint, her manager contacts the customer directly to ask them to stop sending threatening e-mails to Karen and follows this up with an e-mail. The customer unfortunately continues to send Karen threatening e-mails. They have also found her Facebook profile online and have begun to send her messages both to her work e-mail and through social media.

Page 11 of the Bullying at work: Advice for small businesses has more information about steps a manager can take to resolve a workplace bullying complaint [PDF 543]

Where to go for help if you can't resolve a bullying complaint internally

At this point Karen’s manager undertakes a risk assessment based on the information they have about the customer. The risk assessment identifies the company should put in place controls to keep their staff safe in case the customer shows up at the office in person.

Karen lets her manager know that she has continued to receive threatening messages from the customer and decides, with the support of her manager, to report the customer to Netsafe (www.netsafe.org.nz).

Netsafe finds that the customer has breached The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 and recommends that Karen lodges a Harmful Digital Communications Order with the court. Karen’s company supports her to lodge the order and the customer stops sending threatening messages.

Find out more about Netsafe and online bullying(external link)

Janice's story...

Janice has been accused of bullying behaviour by a new employee, Oliver. Oliver believes Janice is deliberately making it harder for him to do his job by changing timeframes for his work at short notice. Janice’s manager has let her know that Oliver has submitted a formal written complaint about her perceived repeated bullying behaviour towards him. As a result of this, Janice’s manager has decided to ask an independent reviewer (eg another manager or HR representative) to carry out an investigation into Oliver’s complaint.

Below are some things Janice should be informed about:

  • The details of the complaint and who made it
  • The investigation process, timeframes and her rights
  • The requirements for confidentiality and non-victimisation
  • Expectations of behaviour during the investigation.

Page 15 of Bullying at work: Advice for workers has more information about the above options [PDF 603 KB]

Janice considers what her manager has let her know about the complaint and the reasons behind why Oliver might have made it.

What you can do if you are accused of being a bully

The independent reviewer completes an investigation into Oliver’s complaint and organises separate meetings with Janice, Oliver and their support people.

Below are some of the options Janice can take:

  • Access her employee assistance programme (if available)
  • Contact a helpline
  • Contact her union

For confidentiality reasons Janice should not talk to other managers, colleagues or HSRs within the organisation.

Page 18 of Bullying at work: Advice for workers has more information about the above options [PDF 603KB]

During the meeting the independent reviewer outlined their findings that the behaviour Oliver perceived as bullying was nothing more than a difference of opinion and did not amount to bullying behaviour. Janice’s manager continues to check in with both Oliver and Janice to encourage a positive working relationship between them.

Page 5 of Bullying at work: Advice for workers has more information about what workplace bullying is, and what it's not [PDF 603KB]

Henry's story...

Henry is a manager at an engineering business and has been approached by his staff member Emma, who believes that she is experiencing unreasonable and repeated bullying behaviour from her colleague Sarah.

Below are some of the options that Henry can take to investigate Emma’s bullying complaint.

  • Low key approach - which may include:
    • getting the line manager or a member of the HR team to talk directly to Sarah
    • encouraging Emma to directly approach Sarah to talk about the behaviour if she feels safe to do so
    • getting Emma to talk to someone she trusts (eg a Health and Safety Representative, her Union, or support person) to give her an objective viewpoint.
  • Informal approach which may include an informal process to stop the alleged unreasonable behaviour and restore people to a productive working relationship (eg mediation).
  • Formal approach/Formal investigation process. 

See page 38 of Preventing and responding to bullying at work - good practice guidelines for more information about steps a manager can take to resolve a workplace bullying complaint [PDF 543]

Henry decides to take an informal approach and set clear expectations with both Emma and Sarah about behaviour within the workplace. Henry continues to monitor the situation and lets Emma know she can approach him again if she has further issues or complaints.

Steps you can take when asked to investigate alleged bullying behaviour

As a result of the clear expectations set by Henry there are no further complaints of bullying behaviour.

If Emma’s complaint had not been satisfactorily resolved by this method, Henry could then have considered taking the following steps:


See Page 46 of Preventing and responding to bullying at work - best practice guidelines for more information about contacting an external agency for advice [PDF 2.3MB].

Abby's story...

Abby works for a local retail store. Recently she had a customer who became verbally abusive towards her when she told them that they did not have what they wanted in stock. Abby asked the customer to leave which they did. However, the next day the customer returned and continued to verbally abuse Abby before Abby asked them to leave again.

Below are some of the options Abby can take to deal with the customer’s bullying behaviour:

  • Seek advice and support
  • Deal with it herself
  • Report the behaviour to her business.

See page 8 of Bulling at work: Advice for workers to find out more about the above options [PDF 603KB]

After talking with a colleague who witnessed the customer’s behaviour Abby decides to talk to her manager and log an incident report.

What to do if you are experiencing threatening behaviour

Abby’s manager thanks her for letting them know and tells her to inform them immediately if the customer returns to the store. Her manager checks that all staff are aware of the procedures in place for dealing with violent or abusive customers and also goes over these with Abby so she knows what to do if the customer returns to the store.

Below are some of the options Abby can use to support her:

  • Seek support from other managers, colleagues, Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) or her union
  • Contact an external support helpline
  • Seek support from friends and family
  • Access her employee assistance programme (if available).


See page 18 of Bulling at work: Advice for workers to find out more about the above options [PDF 603KB]

Abby is a bit shaken up from the repeated incidents and her manager arranges for her to talk to someone through their employee assistance programme (EAP).

What you can do if you are experiencing threatening behaviour

A week later the customer returns to the store and begins screaming at Abby and threatening to assault her. Abby follows the procedures that her manager went over with her and immediately goes to a staff only area and calls her manager who comes and asks the customer to leave. When the customer refuses to leave, the manager phones the Police who come and remove the customer and also issue them with a trespass notice.

Below are some of the places Abby’s employer could find information on how to stop a disorderly customer:

As a result of being trespassed the customer did not return to the store again. Abby’s manager documented the incident and reviewed the stores procedures to see if there was anything they could do differently to protect their staff in the future.