Bullying in the workplace

What is bullying?

Workplace bullying can come in many shapes and forms.

Bullying at work occurs when:

  • A person or a group of people repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work; AND
  • The behaviour creates a risk to health and safety (note: this can be psychological injury risk).

Examples of bullying and unreasonable behaviour

Bullying can include the following ‘unreasonable behaviours’:

  • Aggressive or intimidating conduct;
  • Belittling or humiliating comments;
  • Spreading malicious rumours;
  • Teasing, practical jokes or ‘initiation ceremonies’;
  • Exclusion from work-related events;
  • Unreasonable work expectations, including too much or too little work, or work below or beyond a worker’s skill level;
  • Displaying offensive material; and/or
  • Pressure to behave in an inappropriate manner.


Workplace bullying laws

There are national anti-bullying laws in place in Australia which cover most workplaces (or those that are constitutionally covered businesses). These laws also cover:

  • outworkers
  • students gaining work experience
  • contractors or subcontractors
  • volunteers.

The impact of bullying in the workplace

Bullying can affect operations in a number of ways including impacting the bottom line by increasing staff turnover and lowering productivity. The first step to understanding if your business could be at risk is to be aware of what is considered bullying and what is not.

A single incident of any of the above or general workplace conflict and disagreement would not be considered bullying. If either of these situations do arise they may escalate into bullying behaviour and should be taken as an indicator that management action is required.

Issues involving violence, sexual harassment, discrimination and victimisation are also not considered bullying as they are dealt with under separate legislation and jurisdictions.

Employer actions and performance management

Bullying does not include reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.  The following are examples of what may constitute management action:

  • Conducting performance appraisals;
  • Conducting ongoing meetings to address underperformance;
  • Counselling or disciplining a worker for misconduct;
  • Modifying a worker’s duties including by transferring or re-deploying the worker due to genuine business needs;
  • Investigating alleged misconduct; and
  • Refusing an employee permission to return to work due to a medical condition.

Remember to follow the legislative requirements set out in the Fair Work Act, as well as applicable Modern Awards or enterprise agreements to ensure management action is reasonable.

Workplace bullying policy

To avoid bullying claims, a business needs to ensure it has a workplace policy on bullying.

Once developed, it is important to train staff in the policy as well as ensure the management team have the skills to manage a bullying complaint should one arise.

Training managers in the correct way to manage under-performance or other workplace issues is one way in which you can protect your business from a bullying claim. Dealing with under-performance quickly and fairly can often stop issues becoming more serious over time and allow you to get the best out of your workers.

Where to get help about bullying – Fair Work Commission.

Talk to us

If you need to develop your Workplace Bullying Policy, or review existing procedures, the team at Masula Compliance can help.

We can ensure you have the appropriate systems and procedures in place that complement your existing HR policies and procedures and help you put the steps in place to manage workplace bullying.

Get in touch with the team from Masula Compliance on 07 3348 3666 or email info@masulacompliance.com.au