Bullying at work is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker, or a group of workers, that creates a risk to their health and safety.
Workplace bullying is a psychological hazard and the risks need to be managed like any other hazard at the workplace.
All businesses, regardless of size, must have systems that manage the risk of workplace bullying and reports of bullying must be responded to in an appropriate and timely manner.
Workplace bullying is best dealt with by taking steps to prevent it before it becomes a risk to health and safety.
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A 24 hour counselling service providing emotional support in times of crisis.
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The Fair Work Commission
The Fair Work Commission is the national workplace relations tribunal. It can deal with applications for an order to stop bullying if a worker is bullied while they are at work in a constitutionally covered business. The Fair Work Commission has more information on its Anti-bullying web page.
More information on bullying
The topics below have answers to common questions or call 13 10 50 for more information.
Bullying at work is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker, or a group of workers, that creates a risk to their health and safety. Repeated behaviour refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can include a range of behaviours over time.
Unreasonable behaviour means behaviour that a reasonable person, having regard for the circumstances, would see as victimising, humiliating, undermining or distressing. Whether intended or not, bullying is a health and safety risk.
Types of unreasonable behaviour that may be considered as workplace bullying, when part of a repeated pattern of events, can include:
- abusive, insulting or offensive language
- undue criticism
- excluding, isolating or marginalising a person from normal work activities
- withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
- unreasonably overloading a person with work, or not providing enough work
- setting unreasonable timelines, or constantly changing deadlines
- setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a person’s skill level
- denying access to information, supervision, consultation or resources, resulting in detrimental effects to the worker
- spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
- improper treatment in relation to accessing workplace entitlements, such as leave or training.
There are five broad categories of behaviour that may not be considered workplace bullying:
- reasonable management action
- discrimination and harassment
- workplace conflict
- workplace violence
- discriminatory, coercive or misleading conduct due to raising or acting on work health and safety issues.
There are times when a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU – the new term that includes employers) may take reasonable management action to effectively manage the operation of their business. Examples of reasonable management action include:
- setting reasonable performance goals, standards and deadlines
- allocating work
- rostering and allocating reasonable working hours
- transferring a worker for operational reasons
- failing to promote someone after a proper, documented selection process
- informing a worker that their performance is unsatisfactory, after following established performance management guidelines
- informing a worker, objectively and confidentially, that their behaviour is inappropriate
- a restructure.
Discrimination generally occurs when someone is treated unfairly because of a particular personal characteristic, such as age, race or gender. For example, it would be discriminatory not to hire or promote a woman because she is pregnant.
Harassment involves unwelcome behaviour that intimidates, offends or humiliates someone because of a particular personal characteristic, such as age, race or gender. Unlike bullying, discrimination and harassment do not have to be repeated.
It is possible for a person to be bullied, harassed and discriminated against at the same time. It may be illegal to discriminate or harass a person in the workplace. Anti discrimination, equal employment opportunity, workplace relations and human rights laws deal with these matters.
Workplace conflict is generally not considered to be workplace bullying. Not all conflict is negative nor does it always pose a risk to health and safety. When conflict is at a low level and task based, it can generate debate and lead to new ideas and innovative solutions. However, in some cases, conflict that is not properly managed may escalate to the point where it fits the criteria for workplace bullying. A single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not bullying, although it may have the potential to escalate into bullying. Single incidents can still create a risk to health and safety.
Threats to harm someone, violence and damage to property are criminal matters that should be referred to the NSW Police. For further advice, contact the Police Assistance Line (PAL) on 13 14 44 (24 hours).
You can also report work related violence to WorkCover on 13 10 50.
Work related violence occurs when a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. Unlike bullying, an action does not need to be repeated to be considered violent.
There are specific protections against discriminatory conduct for anyone who raises health and safety concerns or performs legitimate safety related functions.
Everyone at the workplace has a duty to ensure that workplace bullying does not occur.
Person conducting a business or undertaking
A PCBU has the primary duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of workers and others at the workplace are not put at risk. In relation to bullying, the PCBU must:
- provide and maintain a safe work environment
- provide and maintain safe systems of work
- monitor the health and safety of workers and the conditions at the workplace, to ensure injuries and illnesses are prevented
- provide appropriate information, instruction, training and supervision to workers and others.
The PCBU should take a preventative approach, respond appropriately when bullying occurs or is reported, follow a systematic risk management process and consult with workers.
Directors and officers
Directors and officers must exercise due diligence to ensure the business complies with its obligations. An officer must keep up to date with work health and safety matters, take reasonable steps to ensure the business has appropriate resources and ensure the PCBU has processes for complying with their obligations.
Workers have a duty to:
- take reasonable care for their own health and safety
- take reasonable care that they don’t affect the health and safety of others
- comply, so far as is reasonably practicable, with any reasonable instructions given by the PCBU such as cooperating with reasonable policies and procedures, such as a workplace bullying policy.
Visitors, clients, customers, friends and family at a workplace have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, ensure their conduct does not affect the health and safety of others, and comply with any reasonable instructions from the PCBU.
Preventing bullying results in:
- fewer injuries, illnesses and lost time
- less sick leave, absences and staff turnover
- increased productivity
- greater job satisfaction
- improved staff morale
- better workplace relationships
- reduced costs
- improved wellbeing.
Request the behaviour to stop
Firmly and politely inform the person that their behaviour is unreasonable and ask them to stop. They may not realise their behaviour is affecting you and may change their behaviour. If you feel uncomfortable acting alone, ask your health and safety representative (HSR), union representative or supervisor for their support.
Check if there are workplace policy and procedures
The policy outlines standards of acceptable behaviour and explains how to address bullying issues. Ask the HSR or supervisor about the policy and procedures.
Keep a record of what happened, dates and times, who was involved, names of witnesses and, if possible, copies of any documents such as emails.
Report any issues according to the workplace policy and procedures.
Speak to someone you trust
Get advice from someone you trust, such as a friend, colleague, supervisor, HSR, union representative or someone from the human resources department. They may be able to assist in developing a personal intervention plan.
Get help through your employee assistance program (EAP), or ask your doctor to refer you for counselling. The following organisations can help:
If you cannot resolve the bullying issue report it to:
- your HSR who may resolve it through the workplace issue resolution procedure, issue a provisional improvement notice. or arrange for a WorkCover inspector to assist
- your human resources manager
- your union representative
WorkCover can ensure that a PCBU meets their work health and safety obligations. When WorkCover visits a workplace to make enquiries about alleged bullying, it may:
- consult with the parties involved
- provide advice on preventing and responding to bullying
- refer the matter to another agency, for example if it is discrimination rather than bullying
- gather more information in relation to possible breaches of work health and safety legislation.
WorkCover does not have the authority to:
- order the PCBU to discipline the alleged bully or terminate their employment
- take sides
- provide legal advice about civil proceedings or claims.
The Compliance and enforcement web page provides general information on WorkCover’s powers and the Compliance policy and prosecution guidelines has more detailed information.
Please do not make a complaint to WorkCover if you are dissatisfied or have a grievance with your workplace’s organisational and management practices or poor management practices on their own, as they are not workplace bullying. At times people may feel that their working life is unpleasant and that they are being inappropriately treated, but feeling upset or undervalued at work does not mean an individual is being bullied at work.
You can make a complaint to WorkCover about workplace bullying if the behaviour you have experienced meets the definition of bullying and the issue cannot be resolved at your workplace, for example:
- you have reported it to your workplace and there has been no action
- you have reported it to your workplace and the response was inadequate
- you are unable to report it in your workplace because there is no procedure or you are concerned for your health and safety.
It is recommended, to ensure you understand this information, that you read the WorkCover guide on Preventing and responding to bullying at work.
Check that the outcome you seek aligns with what WorkCover can do, and then complete the bullying complaint form. WorkCover will initially respond to your complaint within 10 days. Depending on the nature of the issues you will receive feedback within 20 days.
If you require assistance to complete the form or need further information on making a complaint about bullying, call WorkCover on 13 10 50.
WorkCover has a range of guides, brochures, checklists and kits to help you prevent and respond to bullying in the workplace including:
- Preventing and dealing with workplace bullying describes workplace bullying, outlines an employer's and employee's responsibilities, and provides information on what you can do and who can help when bullying occurs
- the Bullying Prevention Kit has been developed to assist managers, workers and others to prevent bullying in the workplace
- Employer checklist – Preventing and responding to bullying at work provides information for employers on how to carry out a regular check of their workplace in consultation with their health and safety representatives and workers. They should identify any signs that bullying is, or could be, happening, and take steps to deal with any problem areas. This checklist is not exhaustive and you may need to consider other factors that are unique to your workplace.
- the Bullying risk indicator can be used to identify and address any underlying work environment risk factors. This risk indicator and the suggested control measures are not exhaustive and you may need to consider other factors that are unique to your workplace
- the No bullying policy provides a sample policy that can be used to assist you in developing a ‘No bullying policy’ for your workplace.
Call 13 10 50 for more information workplace bullying.