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Psychologist alleges bullying, wins payout

A clinical psychologist who says he was bullied in the workplace has been awarded a payout from the Employment Relations Authority.

The ERA decided Dr Paul Hirini was constructively dismissed and has ordered the Bay of Plenty District Health Boardto pay him for lost wages and for distress.

Dr Hirini had claimed $20,000 in injury to his feelings, but instead the ERA awarded him $7500, as well as three months' pay.

The health board did not properly investigate whether he was bullied, the ERA said in a determination made last week.

In early 2011, Dr Paul Hirini claimed he was subjected to a pattern of bullying from workmate Gail Morley following discussions over case files. He said his team leader Julie Smith supported the bullying.

In April, when Ms Morley and Ms Smith were interviewed, both denied the allegations and said Dr Hirini was the bully. The pair made formal complaints to that affect.

At that stage the health board said there were no witnesses and therefore it could not commence formal action.

Later in May, other colleagues as well as Ms Morley and Ms Smith began to formally complain of Dr Hirini’s "aggressive and intimidating behaviour." He was suspended, then later allowed to work from home.

The health board reviewed Dr Hirini’s case files and engaged an independent consultant to review Dr Hirini’s actions.  The reviewer did not discuss any files with Dr Hirini.

That report was so critical of Dr Hirini’s case management that thehealth board forwarded the matter to registration body, the NZ Psychologists Board.

Further concerns arose when Ms Smith reported concerns about Dr Hirini’s aggressive behaviour. Five staff members had complained about agitated behaviour. One complainant said she was afraid to come to work.

The human resources department sent the complaints to Mr Hirini attached to a letter.

Employment Relations Authority member Rosemary Monaghan said the health board had failed to promptly investigate his allegations and that scope was wrongly limited.

She said during the process the health board should have responded to Dr Hirini’s concerns about how the parties would conduct themselves as the investigation continued.

She found the health board breached several duties to Mr Hirini including; not promptly investigating his complaint he was bullied, suspending him unfairly and not giving him an opportunity to respond before putting allegation about him to the Psychologists Board.

These breaches had a cumulative effect, she said, which caused the resignation.

More by Victoria Young

Comments and questions

What does this say about the employment law of NZ when a psychologist is not smart enough to cope with "bullying" comments but smart enough to win a personal grievance case against his employer when his colleagues said he was the bully?

Why should he had to have coped with bullying comments... then when he complained formally the matter was not investigated. Once accusations were made against him he was not given any right to reply- seems to me that the correct call was made.

Two wrongs do not make it right!

Pity they didn't use more positive conflict-resolution processes. Going behind his back by not discussing concerns with him when they first arose was inappropriate and cowardly. They should have brought in a facilitator or mediator. Much less expensive, and more professional, than a legal fight.

What is confirmed by the decision is that a high percentage of work place bullies (some 70%) are women. with 80% being women on women. Health providers seem to have a fair share of it as the Tokoroa midwife case shows. The grievant in this case may have had a discount in his award for contribution.

Agreed woman are just more inclined to be underhand and sneaky with how they gang up to put it simply....and they are more inclined to be believed at the expense of men.. so the court may have ended up being the only place to resolve it appropriately and less the cat fighting...

I have worked for a workplace that was 90% male for 20 years - no real issues, perhaps I was lucky but they tended to look out for the female staff but last five years with woman- little pockets of all back stabbing and ganging up on certain others, not that it happened to me personally but looking from the outside in.

I also know there are great female workers and bosses but bullying does happen and often the men keep quiet !