Bullying in the workplace is governed by provisions in the Fair Work Act, which defines the scope of what constitutes workplace bullying, and also explains the grounds upon which a claim can be made with respect to such bullying.

Workplace bullying can have serious ramifications for both the perpetrator and the business as well as devastating and long lasting physical and mental health effects on the victim. It is therefore essential that businesses have appropriate policies in place to deal with workplace bullying so as to ensure staff are supported and the ability to effectively respond to bullying complaints in a manner that affords procedural fairness and protects the business from any future claims.

When is a Worker Bullied at Work?

Bullying at work occurs when:

  • a person or a group of people repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work

AND

  • this behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

This behaviour must occur whilst the worker is at work in a constitutionally covered business, for the Fair Work Commission to be in a position to deal with a complaint. This captures most business entities.

The Fair Work Commission offers the following examples of the types of behaviour that may be bullying:

  • aggressive or intimidating conduct
  • belittling or humiliating comments
  • spreading malicious rumours
  • teasing, practical jokes or ‘initiation ceremonies’
  • exclusion from work-related events
  • unreasonable work expectations, including too much or too little work, or work below or beyond a worker’s skill level
  • displaying offensive material
  • pressure to behave in an inappropriate manner.

However, this behaviour must be repeated, unreasonable and create a risk to health and safety in order to be classified as bullying.

Reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner does not constitute bullying. A reasonable management action may include:

  • performance management processes
  • disciplinary action for misconduct
  • informing a worker about unsatisfactory work performance or inappropriate work behaviour
  • asking a worker to perform reasonable duties in keeping with their job
  • maintaining reasonable workplace goals and standards.

However, these actions must be conducted in a reasonable manner. Therefore, if unreasonably instituted or carried out, what would otherwise be considered a reasonable management action may be considered bullying.

For Workers

If you are a Worker and you believe you are being bullied at work, please contact us for advice on your options.

For Businesses

Employers and principals have a duty to reduce or eliminate risks to workers’ health and safety under work health and safety laws, and are encouraged to respond quickly and appropriately to issues of bullying. For more information on effective anti-bullying policies, other information or advice on how your business can respond to bullying claims, please contact us.

If you have any questions about workplace bullying or other employment related issues, please do not hesitate to contact our employment law team, Heath Adams and Amelia Hatton on 02 9635 3404 or email us at info@adamslawyers.com.au.

Written by Amelia Hatton.

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