Workplace Bullies

Workplace Bullying is an issue that is still facing an increasing number of employers and adversely affecting many employees.

To address these issues we recommend the following;
1. Training on what workplace bullying is and what it is not and what the behavioural expectations of the organisation are. AWPTI can assist with a number of programs for mangers, staff and HR professionals –

2. Investigate complaints in a timely and professional manner – Not sure what to do or how to do it, Read more,
AWPTI can assist –

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is any behaviour that is repeated, systematic and directed towards an employee or group of employees that a reasonable person, having regard to the circumstances, would expect to victimise, humiliate, undermine or threaten and which creates a risk to health and safety.

The principles contained in the anti-bullying provisions of the Fair Work Act also provide assistance in determining whether bullying has occurred. The Fair Work Commission’s Anti-bullying Benchbook provides download here: FWC Anti Bullying Benchbook

Bullying – When is a worker bullied at work?

See Fair Work Act s.789FD – Read more

A worker is bullied at work if, while the worker is at work in a constitutionally-covered business, another individual, or group of individuals, repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards the worker, and that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Bullying can cover behaviours carried out by one or more people.

The definition gives effect to the Government’s response to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment’s report Workplace bullying We just want it to stop”.

Repeated unreasonable behaviour

The Committee noted that ‘repeated behaviour’ refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can refer to a range of behaviours over time and that ‘unreasonable behaviour’ is behaviour that a reasonable person, having regard to the circumstances, may see as unreasonable (in other words it is an objective test). This would include (but is not limited to) behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.

There is no specific number of incidents required for the behaviour to be considered ‘repeated’, nor does the same specific kind of behaviour have to be repeated.

Risk to health and safety

A risk to health and safety means the possibility of danger to health and safety, and is not confined to actual danger to health and safety.

The ordinary meaning of ‘risk’ is exposure to the chance of injury or loss.

The bullying behaviour must create the risk to health and safety. Therefore there must be a causal link between the behaviour and the risk. Cases on causation in other contexts suggest that the behaviour does not have to be the only cause of the risk, provided that it was a substantial cause of the risk viewed in a common sense and practical way.

Behaviour will not be considered bullying if it is reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.

Safe Work Australia – Guide for Preventing & Responding to Workplace Bullying

Safe Work Australia has provided guidelines for the prevention of and response to workplace bullying – download here – Safework Australia Guide to preventing & responding to workplace bullying

Workplace bullying can adversely affect the psychological and physical health of a person. Workplace bullying is a psychological hazard that has the potential to harm a person, and it also creates a psychological risk as there is a possibility that a person may be harmed if exposed to it. If effective control measures are put in place to address and resolve workplace issues early, a workplace can minimise the risk of workplace bullying and prevent it from becoming acceptable behaviour in the workplace.

Workplace bullying is 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.

Unreasonable behaviour means behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable, including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.

Examples of behaviour, whether intentional or unintentional, that may be workplace bullying if they are repeated, unreasonable and create a risk to health and safety include but are not limited to:

  • abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments
  • aggressive and intimidating conduct
  • belittling or humiliating comments
  • victimisation
  • practical jokes or initiation
  • unjustified criticism or complaints
  • deliberately excluding someone from work-related activities
  • withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
  • 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 to the detriment of the worker
  • spreading misinformation or malicious rumours, and
  • changing work arrangements such as rosters and leave to deliberately inconvenience a particular worker or workers.

If the behaviour involves violence, for example physical assault or the threat of physical assault, it should be reported to the police.

Workplace bullying can also be subtle & could include behaviour such as:

  • Deliberately excluding, isolating or marginalising a person from normal workplace activities
  • Intruding on a person’s space by pestering, spying or tampering with their personal effects or work equipment
  • Intimidating a person through inappropriate personal comments, belittling opinions or unjustified criticism

Covert behaviour that undermines, treats less favourably or dis-empowers others is also bullying; for example:

  • Overloading a person with work
  • Setting timelines that are very difficult to achieve or constantly changing deadlines
  • Setting tasks that are unreasonably beyond a person’s ability
  • Ignoring or isolating a person
  • Deliberately denying access to information, consultation or resources
  • Unfair treatment in relation to accessing workplace entitlements, such as leave or training or failure to provide adequate training

Workplace bullying can take place in person, through a secondary person or other persons or via remote communications such as telephone, email or the internet.

The use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or online chat forums for bullying purposes in or outside the workplace can constitute workplace bullying if it forms part of a pattern, or is an extension of bullying that has or is occurring in the workplace or is directed at a fellow employee.

Workplace bullying behaviour does not include:

  • Reasonable action taken, in a reasonable manner by an employer to counsel, transfer, demote, discipline, retrench or dismiss an employee
  • Legitimate and appropriate management including the management of performance
  • Legitimate and appropriate performance review
  • A decision by an employer, based on reasonable grounds, not to award or provide a promotion, transfer, or benefit about an employee’s employment
  • Reasonable administrative action taken in a reasonable manner by an employer about an employee’s employment; or
  • Reasonable action taken in a reasonable manner under an Act affecting an employee
  • Management of work-related interpersonal conflicts and occasional differences of opinion which may be more appropriately addressed under the companies Grievance Resolution policy
  • Investigations into bona fide complaints
  • Participation in dispute resolution processes

For assistance with training (we have specialised packages for managers, staff and HR professionals) or investigation please contact us – or 02 9674 4279

AWPTI – workplace investigation Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Misconduct investigations, bullying investigations, harassment investigations & sexual harassment investigations, complaint investigations, grievance investigations, discrimination investigations


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