Hi Brent. It’s no surprise to me that New Zealand, being fairly socialized, would pass such an Act. One small consolation may be that the Act likely cannot be enforced against those who are not New Zealand employers. For one thing, it would be hard to get jurisdiction over them. And even in New Zealand, it will take awhile to develop a body of case law around the legislation.
But this legislation is probably the sign of a trend. In the world today, organizations that work internationally especially face frequent and unpredictable violence from terrorism and war. Humans don’t like to feel that things are out of their control. How better to regain “control” than to pass an Act saying that things must be safe and happy?
Even without an Act, missions should be considering the health and safety of their workers. These considerations are more complex than they have ever been. They can cover everything from sexual harassment to disease to terrorism to personnel policies, or some intersection of them. To take one example, I am told that many missionaries may not have wills, or even guardianships for their children—both for when they are alive but unable to care for them (illness or hostage situation) or if they die. While I realize that getting these documents is costly, not to have them is foolish and can create much greater problems on the back end of a crisis.
There are many other ways in which missions can strive to have good policies, good work environments, adequate crisis management plans, and so forth. We’ve talked a lot recently about disabilities and how missions do assessments, which addresses one aspect of a work environment. I’ve seen recently that something as relatively simple as promptly and adequately investigating complaints can make a big difference in organizational culture. So can holding people accountable to behave well towards others from the very highest levels down. The secular organizations have a term for this, but it involves language that I don’t want to post in a missions blog (The No Insert-Bad-Word-Here Rule).
But there is so much involved here on so many levels that you can only summarize by saying, “Get leadership and HR squared away.” In all issues of negligence, the standard is “reasonableness.” An organization is not going to be liable for a situation that it could not have reasonably prevented. It won’t be liable for failing to make responses if it could not have reasonably foreseen what was needed. But it might be liable for dangers or situations that ARE reasonably foreseeable.
I’m assuming that your next post is going to put me on the spot about some particular area of risk management!
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Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion