5 Things You Need to Know About Workplace Bullying

Updated: Aug 5


Photo Courtesy: Ira Huz collected from Unsplash


In Australia, we have the right to have a workplace where everybody should feel safe. Unless a workplace is free from violence, bullying, victimisation and harassment, it creates a major risk to our health and safety. It also diminishes our capacity to perform our jobs efficiently.

Workplace bullying can take place between:

  • a worker and a manager or supervisor;

  • co-workers, including trainees;

  • a worker and another person in the workplace, for example, a client or a student.

As a society, we all have a shared responsibility to prevent workplace bullying. It is crucial to understand what creates workplace bullying to discourage such behaviour. Following are the five important things you need to know about workplace bullying:



1. What is workplace bullying?


Workplace bullying is repeated unreasonable behaviour to an employee or group of employees that creates a risk to health and safety. It can be verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse. It can include:

  • behaviour that intimidates, manipulates, offends, degrades or humiliates;

  • unreasonable criticism that is not part of managing a person’s performance;

  • exclusion or isolation from co-workers;

  • withholding information, you need to perform your job;

  • removing responsibility or imposing menial tasks;

  • verbal abuse, for example, being sworn at, threatened, insulted, continual inappropriate and invalid criticism, name-calling, practical jokes, unjustified threats of punishment, belittling and humiliation, gossip and malicious rumours, inappropriate language, yelling;

  • hostile behaviour toward a staff member or group. For example, excluding them from conversations or various activities;

  • abusive or offensive emails or other correspondence;

  • threatening body language;

  • unreasonable demands, unnecessary pressure and impossible deadlines which are targeted at an individual or group of individuals;

  • unfair allocation of tasks and working hours. For example, repeatedly requiring a particular person to stay back after hours or rostering them onto night duty;

  • deliberately changing work rosters to inconvenience an employee;

  • undermining a person's work performance, recognition or position, especially with their managers or co-workers;

  • inappropriate surveillance or monitoring;

  • setting tasks that are above or beyond a person’s skill level without access to training or support.

Bullying is not the same as a conflict between people (like having a fight or argument) or disliking someone.



2. Which actions do not constitute workplace bullying?


If a reasonable management action is carried out reasonably, it does not constitute bullying. Examples of reasonable management action that should not constitute bullying may include:

  • genuine and reasonable instructions;

  • setting reasonable performance goals, standards and deadlines for the employees;

  • rostering and allocating working hours for the employees, where that is reasonably required;

  • transferring a worker for genuine operational reasons;

  • informing a worker about inappropriate behaviour objectively and confidentially;

  • deciding not to select a worker for promotion where a reasonable process is followed and documented;

  • making organisational changes or restructuring, with proper consultation;

  • constructive comments which are objective and indicate observable deficiencies in performance or conduct;

  • Feedback or counselling delivered constructively to help employees to improve their work performance or the standard of their behaviour;

  • reasonable grievances;

  • justified termination of employment.



3. What are the measures you can take against workplace bullying?


It is critical that we feel safe at work at all times. If you have experienced bullying at work, you should take the following measures:

  • The first important measure is to tell the people you trust what you have experienced.

  • You should also keep a written record of what has happened, including:

  1. the dates and times of incidents;

  2. who was involved;

  3. anyone who may have seen what happened.

  • You should also tell your employer and ask for the incidents to be recorded. You must get a copy of the incident report as soon as possible.

  • Your employer must take reasonable steps to make your workplace free from bullying and discrimination. Every employer is responsible to create a work environment that is free from any risks to health and safety. If your employer does not take any step or if you are not happy with the actions taken you can take further measures.

  • If you have been injured due to the bullying, you must see a doctor. An injury includes effects on your mental health, such as depression. The doctor may give you a WorkSafe medical certificate. You should consider lodging an application for workers compensation within 30 days of the injury occurring. If you report the bullying to WorkSafe, it is likely that they will investigate your workplace.

  • If the bullying continues, you may be able to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying. This type of application is available to workers, in constitutionally-covered businesses, who are being subjected to repeated unreasonable behaviour at work which creates a risk to their health and safety. The Fair Work Commission will only make an order where there is an ongoing risk of bullying.

  • In the most severe cases, bullying behaviours can now be treated as a crime in Victoria.

If you cannot resolve the bullying by yourself, we recommend you to get advice from JobWatch, your union or an employment law specialist lawyer.



4. Who is protected from workplace bullying?


The national anti-bullying laws cover most workplaces or those that are constitutionally covered businesses. These laws also cover:

  • outworkers;

  • students gaining work experience;

  • contractors or sub-contractors;

  • volunteers.

The Fair Work Commission is the national workplace relations tribunal that deals with anti-bullying claims under the Fair Work Act. To find out whether you're covered by the national anti-bullying laws, you can visit https://www.fwc.gov.au/


If you are not covered under these laws, each state or territory has a workplace health and safety body that can provide you with advice and assistance about workplace bullying.



5. How can you manage workplace bullying as an employer?


As an employer, you can minimise the risk of workplace bullying by taking a proactive approach. You can take measures in identifying early signs of any unreasonable behaviour and situations likely to increase the risk of workplace bullying.


Organisations and businesses should implement control measures to manage these risks. They should monitor and review the effectiveness of these measures. To prevent workplace bullying, you could include activities such as:

  • Regularly consult with workers and health and safety representatives to find out if bullying is occurring or if there are factors likely to increase the risk of workplace bullying.

  • Set the standard of workplace behaviour through a code of conduct or workplace bullying policy.

  • Design safe systems of work by clearly defining jobs.

  • Provide workers with the resources, information and training they need to carry out their work safely.

  • Implement workplace bullying reporting and response procedures.

  • Develop productive and respectful workplace relationships through good management practices and effective communication.

  • Provide information and training on workplace bullying policies and procedures, available support and assistance, and how to prevent and respond to workplace bullying.

  • Prioritise measures that foster and protect the psychological health of employees.


If you need more information about workplace bullying or you need legal advice or assistance on workplace bullying please visit us on www.lawcircuit.com.au or call us on 0418631798 or email us at bonhi@lawcircuit.com.au. We are here to help you to find the right legal service to solve your problems. We will provide you every support to make your legal journey easier.

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