Bullying in the Workplace

While most people associate bullying to be reflective of the schoolyard behaviour of adolescents, most would be surprised to know of its rising prevalence in the workplace today. According to Safe Work Australia, 37% of Australian workers reported being sworn or yelled at in their workplace.

What is workplace bullying?

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as, “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work-interference, i.e., sabotage, which prevents work from getting done.”

Some examples of workplace bullying include:

  • abusive or offensive language or comments
  • aggressive and intimidating behaviour
  • belittling or humiliating comments
  • practical jokes or initiation
  • unjustified criticism or complaints.

What is important to note here is that bullying must be both intentional and repetitive, not a one-off incident or remark from a colleague. Over time, this may affect the physical and mental health of workers and is also likely to contribute to a poor organisational culture.

What is not workplace bullying?

Not all behaviour that makes a worker feel upset or undervalued is considered workplace bullying or will be protected by laws.

For example, workplace bullying is not:

  • a single incident of unreasonable behaviour
  • unreasonable behaviour that involves violence
  • reasonable management action that:
    • is in connection with a worker’s employment
    • is carried out in a lawful and reasonable way
    • takes the particular circumstances into account
  • acts of unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment
  • workplace conflict (e.g. differences of opinion).

How can you resolve workplace bullying?

Leaders and organisations should be responsible for implementing controls to minimise the risk of workplace bullying. This could include:

  • Understanding if and why bullying is occurring and address it promptly
  • Setting the standard of workplace behaviour
  • Implementing good management practices and effective communication
  • Providing information and training on workplace bullying policies and procedures, available support and assistance

In some of the more extreme circumstances, an order to prevent or stop a worker being bullied can be made under the Fair Work Act 2009  by contacting the Fair Work Commission. The Fair Work Commission is authorised to act and prevent bullying from occurring in the workplace.

By making an application to the Fair Work Commission, could result in consequential actions such as:

  • requiring the person or persons to stop the specified behaviour;
  • regular monitoring of behaviours by an employer or principal;
  • requirements for compliance with an employer’s or principal’s bullying policy;
  • provision of information, additional support and training to workers; and
  • review of the employer’s or principal’s bullying policy.

Despite their role, it is important to note that the Fair Work Commission cannot issue fines or penalties and is unable to award financial compensation in bullying matters even where there is a positive finding of bullying in the workplace.

It is important that you have experienced solicitors when dealing with disputes relating to bullying in the workplace and employment law. 

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  1. Thank you for this article! I can relate to this. Although I was bullied in middle and high school, I didn’t experience workplace bullying until I was in my late thirties and it was brutal. Luckily, I was able to document and sometimes record the incidences. I knew to keep a CYA file to cover myself and was able to leave on my own terms. However, I knew many other victims who weren’t so lucky.

    This is a great post!

    1. Thank you for the positive feedback.

      I’m sorry to hear about your situation. It really is disappointing to see how some people treat one another. Fortunately, there are laws in place to try and make the situations a bit easier to deal with. That sadly is only a deterrent.

      Please follow the blog if you found this post interesting. I’m sure that you might come across something else in the near future. Feel free to also share it around. Knowledge is power!

  2. Hi,

    I survived systemic workplace bullying under HR during bereavement in a company that successfully masquerades as ethical. Only after 2 customer deaths became public with a 3rd nearly fatal and several injured, does the public take a closer look.

    I write about what I survived and what others still go through.

    I went through all the bullying, especially the subtle bullying.

    > https://expret.org/2019/10/28/caught-in-the-act-at-pret <


    1. Hi,

      That’s awful to hear. What appalling actions and response! I’m shocked that it took two deaths and severe injury with a third for a message to be heard. Workplace bullying needs to be brought to a stop before more people are harmed as result.

      I urge you to please share this to help bring further awareness to the topic.

      Thank you.

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