Notify WorkSafe Call 1300 366 322
Notify WorkSafe Call 1300 366 322

What is bullying?

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.

Repeated behaviour refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can involve a range of behaviours over time. A single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not workplace bullying. However, it may be repeated, or escalate, so should not be ignored.

Unreasonable behaviour means behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable. It includes behaviour that victimises, humiliates, intimidates or threatens someone.

Examples of bullying behaviour

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.

Workplace bullying behaviour can be done in person through verbal or physical abuse, through email or text messaging, internet chat rooms, instant messaging or other social media channels. It may occur outside the workplace and normal working hours.

What isn’t bullying

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).

Unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment

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

  • Generally, sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that could be expected to make a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.
  • Discrimination on the basis of a ‘protected trait’ — including gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy — may be unlawful under anti-discrimination, equal employment opportunity, workplace relations and human rights laws.

For help with these matters, contact:

Equal Opportunity Tasmania (external link): 1300 305 062

Fair Work Commission (external link): 1300 799 675

The Australian Human Rights Commission (external link): 1300 656 419

Resources and solutions

How to prevent and respond to workplace bullying (PDF, 928.2 KB)

Mental health

Updated: 10th December 2019