Bullying within the workplace creates a risk to the health and safety of your workers. While no specific mention is made of bullying in health and safety legislation, all health and safety legislation imposes a general duty on you to protect the health, safety, and welfare of your workers.

Workplace bullying isn’t just confined to the physical workspace. Bullying can also occur online, particularly through email or social media, and at any time of the day or night.

There are two types of bullying that can occur in the workplace - direct and indirect bullying.

Direct bullying is behaviour that is overt and often involves direct steps or conduct to belittle or demean a person or a group of people. Examples include:

  • abusive, insulting or offensive language;
  • spreading misinformation or malicious rumours;
  • behaviour or language that frightens, humiliates, belittles or degrades, including criticism delivered with yelling or screaming;
  • displaying offensive material, e.g. pornography;
  • making inappropriate comments about a person’s appearance, lifestyle or family;
  • teasing or regularly making someone the brunt of pranks or practical jokes;
  • interfering with a person’s property or work equipment, e.g. hiding or defacing someone’s property; and
  • harmful or offensive initiation processes.

Indirect bullying is behaviour that often involves treatment that excludes or removes benefits from a person or group of people, including:

  • deliberately or maliciously overloading a person with work or not providing enough work;
  • unreasonably setting timelines that are difficult to achieve or constantly changing deadlines;
  • setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a person’s skill level;
  • deliberately excluding, isolating or marginalising a person from normal work activities, e.g. excluding a worker from meetings or functions that everyone else attends;
  • withholding information that is vital for effective work performance;
  • deliberately denying access to information, consultation or resources;
  • deliberately changing work arrangements such as rosters and leave to inconvenience a particular worker or workers; and
  • unfair treatment in relation to accessing workplace entitlements, e.g. leave or training.

A wide range of injuries and illnesses can result from bullying, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, stress, self-harm, eating disorders, and even suicide.

Workplace bullying can also result in costs to your business through increased absenteeism and high staff turnover, both of which result in reduced productivity. Then there are the legal claims by employees for damages and costs.

You can face liability under the FW Act in two ways - under the anti-bullying scheme and through an unfair dismissal claim.

A worker who believes they have been bullied at work may apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order to stop the bullying.

Even though the anti-bullying scheme came into effect on 1 January 2014, the FWC has ruled that it can consider behaviour that occurred before that date when dealing with applications for orders to stop the conduct. This means that if bullying began in 2013, even though the laws weren’t in place then, the FWC can look at that past conduct in its decision.

A bullying victim who resigns may be able to make an unfair dismissal claim on the basis that the resignation was actually a constructive dismissal. A constructive dismissal occurs when a worker is forced to resign. A resignation is not voluntary if it is due to the worker being bullied in the workplace.

As you know, under health and safety legislation you have an obligation to protect the welfare of your workers. This includes doing everything you reasonably can to prevent the risk of bullying in your workplace.


Top stories for Bullying in the workplace


Tram driver denied procedural fairness, FWC rules

Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination

  When a person or body is appointed to determine allegations of employee misconduct, there is generally an obligation to afford the employee being investigated natural justice or procedural fairness. In a recent Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision, Australian Rail, […]

By Charles Power on August 12th, 2019

Your questions answered: What can we do if management won’t address bullying?

Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination

Q We have reported a bullying manager to HR. However, she will only change her behaviour for a period of time before reverting back to bullying. Nothing seems to happen when she is reported, and it’s not just one person […]

By Portner Press on July 12th, 2019

‘Grow up’ FWC tells company director

Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination

When a company director’s relationship with his co-director wife broke down, a female HR manager in the family business became the victim of his bullying. The employee at Hoad Water Cartage in Adelaide applied to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) […]

By Portner Press on April 26th, 2019

Your questions answered: How do we deal with a boss who is a bully?

Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination

  Q I am having trouble finding information about what to do if a boss is the bully in a workplace… I once worked somewhere where the sole director was and continues to be the main source of bullying. What course of […]

By Portner Press on January 11th, 2019

Strict policy and quick reaction protects employer against claim

Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination

There is a belief employers will usually be held liable for the conduct of its employees when they hurt other employees. But this isn’t always the case.

By Portner Press on October 31st, 2018

Your questions answered: Is a senior manager too senior to be suspended?

Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination

  Q Can you please advise whether it is standard process to stand down a senior manager accused of bullying during the investigation period due to their position of power?   A Each situation depends on its facts. However, it […]

By Portner Press on October 12th, 2018

5 steps to take when investigating a bullying complaint

Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination

Since the introduction of the anti-bullying scheme under the Fair Work Act, the FWC has been clamping down on employers who neglect to address bullying in their workplace.

By Portner Press on September 19th, 2018

Ignoring manager’s bullying cost company $435,000

Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination

Ongoing “harassing and belittling” behaviour towards an employee led to the development of a psychiatric condition the employer was found vicariously liable for, the Queensland Court of Appeal has found.

By Portner Press on August 22nd, 2018

Implementing performance management while avoiding workplace bullying

Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination

Workplace bullying claims lead to reduced productivity, costly and disruptive litigation and hefty workers’ compensation premiums.

By Charles Power on August 6th, 2018

11 signs of workplace bullying you might be missing

Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination

Half of Australians will experience workplace bullying at some point in their careers. Employers have a duty of care to identify and tackle bullying associated with their workplace.

By Portner Press on July 2nd, 2018