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What is bullying?

A worker is bullied if, while at work, an individual or a group repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards that worker, and that behaviour creates a risk to that worker’s health and safety.

The key elements to remember are that the behaviour needs to be:

  • unreasonable
  • done repeatedly
  • must create a risk to the worker’s health and safety

Bullying can take the form of verbal, physical, psychological, or social abuse by an individual or group of people in the workplace.

Examples of bullying behaviour

Examples of bullying can include:

  • threats
  • humiliation
  • shouting
  • sarcasm
  • intimidation and coercion
  • singling out or ostracism
  • innuendo
  • rumour-mongering
  • disrespect and mocking
  • discrimination
  • exclusion from work events
  • unreasonable work expectations, including too little or too much work, or work below or beyond a worker’s skill level

Who is protected from workplace bullying?

All employees, along with students on work experience, contractors and subcontractors and volunteers are protected from bullying under the law.

The health and safety risk

Bullying can involve physical violence or otherwise subjecting a worker to a physical safety risk at their workplace.

However, bullying can also cause psychological and stress-related risks to health and safety.

If you are a worker who is suffering stress due to bullying, it might help to have a diagnosis from a GP or psychologist to show the health and safety risk that could arise from continued bullying.

If you are experiencing physical threats or violence, you should contact the police.

If you are experiencing psychological distress, including anxiety or depression, contact your GP or psychologist – or you can call one of these services for support. 

Lifeline  13 11 14

1800RESPECT  1800 737 732

QLife  1800 184 527

Beyond Blue  1300 223 636

MensLine Australia  1300 789 978

Kids Helpline  1800 551 800

What is not bullying?

Reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable way is not bullying.

Reasonable management action can include things like performance appraisals, warnings, demotions, or changing a worker’s roster.

However, those same actions could also be considered unreasonable, depending on the circumstances.

Ultimately, it will be up to the Fair Work Commission to determine what is and what isn’t reasonable.

How We Can Help

If you have experienced workplace bullying or harassment, our team of Australian employment lawyers and industrial advocates can help.

We can apply for an Order to Stop Bullying from the Fair Work Commission.

While the Commission has powers to make anti-bullying orders – it does not have the power to order any monetary compensation.

An order to stop bullying is designed to get a person back working in a bullying-free environment as quickly as possible, in addition to removing future bullying risk.

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LAST UPDATED: April 2022

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