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Workplace bullying

5-minute read

What is workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker in the workplace, creating a risk to health and safety. Bullying can involve just one person or groups of people. Workplace bullying can be physical, verbal or psychological, and can include victimisation, humiliation, intimidation or threatening behaviour.

Bullying can take place in any workplace, including offices, shops, factories, cafes, restaurants, workshops, and within community and government organisations.

Anyone can be bullied, including casuals, temps, subcontractors, work experience students, interns, volunteers, permanent employees and managers. Bullies can be managers, bosses, or co-workers.

What are examples of workplace bullying?

Bullying at work is repeated, unreasonable behaviour and can include:

  • aggressive or intimidating behaviour
  • threatening someone with work equipment
  • teasing or practical jokes
  • humiliating or belittling comments
  • sexual harassment (although sexual harassment does not need to be repetitive behaviour)
  • playing mind games
  • spreading hurtful rumours
  • using rosters to deliberately inconvenience someone
  • initiation ceremonies
  • excluding someone from work-related events
  • assigning unreasonable, demeaning or pointless work demands
  • withholding important information needed for effective performance
  • giving someone impossible jobs
  • displaying offensive material
  • pressuring someone to behave inappropriately

It's important to understand, however, that even though sometimes things might seem unfair, they don't necessarily involve bullying. For example, your boss can sack you, transfer you, not promote you, discipline you, or direct and control the work that you carry out, as long as the decision is reasonable and the manager acts in a reasonable way. Legitimate feedback from your boss, even if it's negative, is not bullying.

What do I do if I'm bullied in the workplace?

If you're being bullied at work, there are things you can do to stop it. They include:

  • checking your workplace's policy on bullying and harassment
  • keeping written records
  • talking to people you trust, like friends or family
  • talking to the bully about their behaviour, if you feel safe doing this
  • reporting it to a manager, supervisor, HR officer, or union rep
  • contacting the Fair Work Commission
  • going to the police (some workplace bullying, including stalking, assault or violence, is a criminal offence)

if you are under 18, bullying may also be child abuse.

What are my rights?

All companies and organisations in Australia must make sure their workers are not exposed to health and safety risks in the workplace. This includes having systems in place to prevent and respond to workplace bullying. By law, if a person reports bullying behaviour, an employer has to go through a proper complaint handling process.

There are also laws about discrimination in the workplace, and laws against sexual harassment. Violent behaviour, threatening behaviour, and stalking are also illegal.

Any worker who believes they are being bullied can apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying.

What if I witness workplace bullying?

If you witness someone being bullied in the workplace, you can help them by telling them the options they have to report it and stop it.

What can you expect from your workplace?

If you inform your workplace that you are experiencing bullying, your workplace should:

  • respond to you as quickly as possible
  • treat the report seriously
  • inform you of how they will deal with it
  • make sure everything is kept confidential
  • allow everyone to explain their version of events
  • not take sides
  • tell you about any support you can get
  • allow you to take someone else to meetings, like a friend or union rep
  • keep records of conversations, meetings and interviews
  • attempt to resolve things and let you know the outcome

If you feel that the bullying situation has not changed after your workplace has been informed, you can contact outside organisations to get help. These include the Fair Work Commission (to get a stop bullying order), Australian Human Rights Commission, or the relevant anti-discrimination body or health and safety body in your state or territory.

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Last reviewed: January 2022

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