Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Another bullying payout to city staff

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The Auckland Council has paid $93,000 in a confidential settlement to three staff in the billing and credit management team at Manukau who lodged a complaint of alleged bullying and harassment by their team manager.

An external and internal investigation did not uphold the complaint, but found some inappropriate behaviour by the team manager that required attention.

The three female staff subsequently lodged a personal grievance over the issue. They later withdrew it and reached a joint settlement with the council under which they were paid about $93,000 and resigned from their jobs in April and May this year.

The team manager stayed in her job, and was given mentoring and coaching.

The case is similar to the case of a complaint in October last year by four managers against the head of the infrastructure and environmental services department, John Dragicevich, which was investigated by employment lawyer Penny Swarbrick, who found six cases in which his behaviour fitted the council's definition of bullying.

Mr Dragicevich kept his job and the council is paying $300,000 in confidential settlements to two complainants, who resigned from their jobs.

In both cases, some or all of the complainants received payments and resigned from the council.

The Manukau case arose when the team manager, who had previously worked at Auckland City Council, allegedly began micro-managing what had previously been a relaxed office environment.

Issues over time-keeping, performance and absenteeism and the need for change led to a series of staff meetings, informal mediation and a complaint of bullying in July last year.

Notes attached to the investigation show that one of the complainants was particularly upset at losing her role in the dog registration process.

Another complainant said the previous Manukau City Council management and staff genuinely cared for each other - "sadly this came crashing down very shortly after the arrival of [the team manager]".

A third complainant sought medical help, including from a psychiatrist, after finding herself sitting at her desk with tears running down her face.

"I realised at this point I could not handle the bullying that was happening to different members of the team," she told the investigation.

The notes included a lengthy response to the complaints from the team manager, who said she found herself in a new location, with new people and isolated from her own support network of colleagues and managers in the finance department.

She described management practices in the team as "laissez-faire" and said she used a very hands-on approach to understand the business.

After the investigation did not uphold the complaint, the PSA lodged a personal grievance in November on behalf of the three staff, saying the workplace bullying included aggression, threats, shouting, abuse and excessive supervision.

The council responded by saying it had taken the complaints seriously.

"The council confirmed the team leader had, on occasion, acted in a manner that we consider to be at odds with our expectations for someone in that role," a written response said.

"Ultimately, however, we were not satisfied that the behaviour complained of came within the definition of bullying and harassment in our policy."

Last night council chief executive Doug McKay said he was not aware of the case.

- NZ Herald

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