Workplace Bullying

In recent years, awareness of workplace bullying has risen. There’s growing community acceptance that bullying in the workplace is unacceptable, and should be fixed when it occurs.

The information here is taken from our new guide ‘How to prevent and respond to workplace bullying’. It provides information for:

  • persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) and managers who must manage the risks of workplace bullying
  • anyone who thinks they are being bullied, so they can determine if workplace bullying is occurring and how the matter may be resolved
  • anyone who has had a bullying report made against them.

We recommend you read the full guide by either:

  • downloading it from the resources listing below, or
  • calling our Helpline on 1300 366 322 to request a printed copy

Bullying

Bullying is a safety matter

Workplace bullying is a risk to work health and safety because it may affect the mental and physical health of individuals. Effects may include:

  • distress, anxiety, panic attacks, depression
  • physical illness: headaches, fatigue, digestive problems
  • negative impact on work performance, concentration, ability to make decisions
  • deteriorating relationships with colleagues, family, friends

It can damage the reputation of your business and lead to:

  • high staff turnover, associated recruitment / training costs
  • increased absenteeism
  • lost productivity
  • costs for counselling, mediation and support
  • costs for workers compensation claims or legal action

Take a risk management approach

You can and must prevent and manage workplace bullying like other workplace hazards, by:

  • identifying its presence or potential
  • putting control measures in place to prevent or manage it
  • putting planning, resources and systems in place: for example, policies, procedures, consultation and training.

For practical steps on how to do this, see sections 5, 6 and 7 of our guide ‘How to prevent and respond to workplace bullying’ in the resources listing below.

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.

Examples of behaviour — whether intentional or not — that may be workplace bullying if they are repeated, unreasonable and create a risk to WHS include:

  • abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments
  • unjustified criticism or complaints
  • deliberately excluding someone from workplace activities
  • withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
  • setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines
  • spreading misinformation or malicious rumours

For more examples, see section 2 of our guide ‘How to prevent and respond to workplace bullying’ in the resources listing below.

It’s reasonable for PCBUs, managers and supervisors to:

  • allocate work
  • direct and control the way that work is done
  • give fair and reasonable feedback on a worker’s performance.

These actions are not considered workplace bullying if they are carried out lawfully and in a reasonable manner.

Differences of opinion and disagreements are generally not considered workplace bullying. People can have differences and disagreements at work without engaging in repeated, unreasonable behaviour that creates a risk to WHS. People may also take offence at some behaviour that, in itself, is not unreasonable (including action by management). For more examples, see section 3 of our guide ‘How to prevent and respond to workplace bullying’ in the resources listing below.

Unreasonable behaviour may involve unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment which, in isolation, is not bullying.

For help with these matters, contact:

The Work Health and Safety Act 2012 includes specific protections around discriminating against someone for raising WHS concerns or performing legitimate safety-related functions.

Everyone in a workplace should be treated fairly and with respect.

Everyone at the workplace has a WHS duty and can help ensure workplace bullying does not occur:

  • PCBUs should be proactive in meeting their duty of care to reduce the risk of unacceptable behaviours occurring in their workplace
  • workers should be aware of their duty of care not to bully others in the workplace.

Failing to take steps to manage the risk of bullying can result in a breach of the work health and safety laws.

The Work Health and Safety Act 2012 requires the PCBU to ensure the health and safety of its workers, including their physical and psychological health. This means PCBUs must take reasonable steps to ensure the mental health of its workers, and could face penalties under the Act if it fails to take steps to identify and prevent bullying in its workplace.

WorkSafe will only investigate when:

  • the bullying is still occurring, and
  • the victim has exhausted all options within their workplace to stop the bullying

It is the inspector’s role to investigate and determine if those involved have met their obligations under the Act: for example, if the PCBU has a policy and procedure in place for preventing and responding to bullying.

It is not the inspector’s role to mediate between the victim and the alleged bully or become involved in the specific details of the reported bullying activities.

The inspector may issue verbal advice and/or improvement or prohibition notices.

WorkSafe’s free Advisory Service can help you develop your safety management system, and support you to create a mentally safe and healthy workplace — a known factor in preventing workplace bullying. Our Advisors can help you with practical tools and resources to do this. Book a free visit with an Advisor.