Responding to economic harm in the workplace

November 24, 2021

A business owner shares her story of how her company supported a member of staff experiencing economic harm, what it meant for her business and what’s been put in place to help prevent it.

It came to our attention that member of staff was experiencing several forms of abuse, one of which was economic abuse.

The head of her department came to us concerned after noticing the member of staff going to the bathroom to cry, making comments about not having enough credit on her phone or bus money to get home.

In the workplace, there’s a social element within colleague relationships, so when the team became aware of how much stress she was under they were really concerned, and this impacted staff productivity and morale.

The first thing we did was have a conversation with the staff member. We wanted to make sure we weren’t making her uncomfortable and that we weren’t interfering where we weren’t wanted.

However, as employers we have an obligation to address wellbeing issues with our employees – so it wasn’t appropriate to ignore it either.

This member of staff faced real challenges too. She was relatively young, with limited English and had little knowledge of what her legal rights were as a working visa holder in New Zealand.

After talking with our staff member and highlighting that she could seek support for the way she was being treated, we discovered a major red flag – that she hadn’t been receiving her wages.

While we had been paying wages directly into her bank account, an account that was in her name, it turned out she didn’t have access to that account.

Effectively she had no access to her fulltime wage and was being given $20/week for the bus.

We knew that we couldn’t provide appropriate support by ourselves so we started by helping her access services that could help her understand her rights and find out support was available.


Supporting from start to finish

Supporting her from start to finish was really important as she had very little support in the way of friends or family in New Zealand.

 We took her to appointments, to find emergency accommodation, and we took her to the bank to set up a new bank account – because she was not equipped to navigate these services herself.

She was also receiving a lot of pressure from the person perpetrating the abuse, which was emotionally challenging for her.

Because she had so much to deal with, we couldn’t just say “Let’s introduce her to a support agency” and then wash our hands of it. 

We had to be available every day for a few weeks until she felt like she had a plan.

Despite being told what was happening to her was normal, she instinctively understood that she was being treated badly and that she wanted to leave her living situation.

Eventually she was relocated to safe accommodation, she had a new bank account, her own money and new passwords – whilst everything else had been cancelled.

Her liability and name were removed from the mortgage where she was living – she hadn’t understood that she was listed as personally liable for the mortgage of the family home she was living in.

The main part for us was that she was safe and had her own money.

Alongside all of this, was our staff, who were being hugely impacted by what was going on.

The right thing to do

When people ask us “why did you go above and beyond?”, they expect you to say “because it was the right thing to do” – and of course it was the right thing to do, but it was also the business smart thing to do.

If you’ve got a staff member who is experiencing abuse, it can be very triggering for other staff, which impacts productivity, staff retention and morale.

There were probably four or five days where our staff were only thinking about this and what was going to happen.

Therefore, in terms of our business, being proactive in this scenario far outweighed the inconvenience of dealing with it.

It’s all very well to have HR strategies in place, to tell staff to come talk to you and to tell staff you’ll be there if they need you – but to actually do it and in the most serious of cases – well the impact was that our staff thought they worked for the best company in the world.

Moving forward we have implemented training for our HR staff so they can encourage staff to talk to them when they need help and respond to concerns appropriately.

We’ve also put together information about what the legal obligations are around the rights to your own money, privacy over your own money management and what agencies are available should you need help with anything.

A big learning point for us was that staff might not recognise abuse in their own lives, so we’ve also provided information about the signs of harm and abuse and what you can do if it’s happening to you.

It’s been important to remind ourselves that our member of staff that we supported, initially didn’t understand that she was being treated illegally.

We can’t sit back and wait for them to come to us. How can they if they don’t know something is wrong?

Please note: the name and any identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the person involved

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