This article was first published on August 29 2022.

Two in five people say they have been bullied at work in their lifetime.

And it’s young people, Māori, Pasifika and Asian New Zealanders, as well as bisexual and disabled people, who are often on the receiving end of workplace bullying and harassment.

A new study by  Te Kāhui Tika Tangata, the Human Rights Commission, looked at New Zealand’s workplaces and found nearly a third of workers have experienced sexual harassment in the past five years. 

Young women (54%), bisexual workers (67%), and disabled workers (58%) were more likely to experience sexual harassment at work.

Sexual harassment was most common in the healthcare and social assistance sector, affecting 41% of workers. 

In the hospitality sector, 43% of staff under 30 said they experienced sexual harassment. 

The survey found the country’s workplaces can also be a hotbed of racism, with nearly 40% of workers saying they had been racially harassed in the last five years. 

Fifty-two per cent of Māori, 62% of Pasifika, and 62% of Asian New Zealanders have been racially harassed at work, with 61% of both disabled workers and recent migrants also reporting racial harassment. 

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo told Breakfast the survey’s findings are “ugly” and “really, really shocking" for workers with disabilities, Asian, Pacific and Māori workers, and migrant workers, in particular.

"For the first time, we are seeing that level of detail. Often, studies say 'have you suffered bullying or sexual harassment?' We wanted to ask specifically around sexual harassment and racial harassment and bullying and that is the picture we've got.”

"It's really ugly and we have to act on it,” Sumeo said.

Bullying widespread in the workplace

Two in five workers said they had been bullied at work in their lifetime, with younger workers more likely to experience this. 

Bullying was also particularly high among disabled (52%), bisexual (39%), and Pacific (26%) workers. 

Those doing the bullying were mostly in positions of power, with 53% of the bullying coming from a manager or supervisor, and another 30% done by a more senior colleague.

But only 24% of people who experienced workplace bullying or harassment raised a formal complaint and 43% of people who did raise a complaint were unhappy with the outcome.

The main reason for not raising a complaint was the feeling that it wouldn’t make a difference (34%), while 29% of people thought it would just make their situation worse.

Some workers said their experience of bullying and harassment was so bad, they had either considered or attempted suicide.

Sumeo says these stories are heartbreaking.

“Workers shouldn’t have to fear for their mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing while out earning a living for themselves, their households and contributing to our national prosperity,” she said.

Sumeo is calling on the Government, businesses, and unions to better support those suffering at work.

"Everybody has a fundamental right to be safe in their workplace, be free from discrimination," she told Breakfast.

"Life isn't perfect but when you're at work, [but] your employers have an obligation, have a duty of care to make sure that you're safe."

She also said everyone in a workplace needs to play their part in helping create a safe space. 

She said we have to "lift the responsibility away from the victim and have everybody in that workplace take responsibility".

"We can say 'yes, we need to have policies' but sometimes, it's been the bosses that have been the perpetrators [of the harassment].

“When you work for a small restaurant or dairy or a small place, it's not like working for TVNZ or the Human Rights Commission where you've got a human resources department. They've got nowhere to go.

"It's really important that we take care of our people but everybody in that place needs to take responsibility."

Top Image: An illustration of someone upset in front of their laptop. (File photo) Photo: iStock

Where to get help:

  • 24 hour nationwide helpline Safe2Talk: 0800 044 334
  • 24/7 helpline Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP: 04 801 6655
  • RapeCrisis directory to services across the country:
  • (Not for crisis support): For education programs around preventing sexual violence: RespectEd
  • Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Aotearoa: 
  • To report your experience to the police, call 111 or the non-emergency line 105
  • 1737: The nationwide, 24/7 mental health support line. Call or text 1737 to speak to a trained counsellor.
  • Suicide Crisis Line: Free call 0508 TAUTOKO or 0508 828 865. Nationwide 24/7 support line operated by experienced counsellors with advanced suicide prevention training. 
  • Youthline: Free call 0800 376 633, free text 234. Nationwide service focused on supporting young people.
  • OUTLine NZ: Freephone 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463). National service that helps LGBTIQ+ New Zealanders access support, information and a sense of community. 


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