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Workplace bullying: What can you do?

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National laws exist to protect Australian workers from workplace bullying. If you or one of your co-workers is being bullied at work, there are things you can do to address the situation.

Am I being bullied?

The first step in dealing with workplace bullying is to make sure that bullying is definitely occurring. According to Safe Work Australia, workplace bullying is defined as “repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.” Workplace bullying can occur in person, or via means such as email and text messages.

Some workplace behaviour can make you feel upset, but as long as it is reasonable management behaviour, it may not be defined as bullying. For example, your manager can offer fair and reasonable feedback on your standard of work – this would not constitute workplace bullying. If, on the other hand, a manager or co-worker is abusive towards you, or if they repeatedly direct unjustifiable criticisms at you, this may constitute workplace bullying.

Can workplace bullying be prevented?

Under Australian law, employers are required to provide a workplace that does not expose staff to health and safety risks, including bullying. If you work in an organisation governed by the Fair Work Act, your workplace should have systems in place to prevent and respond to workplace bullying, including an anti-bullying policy.

Steps to take if you are being bullied at work

If you are being bullied at work, there are government websites that provide guidance around what steps you can take.

The Safe Work Australia Guide to Dealing with Workplace Bullying suggests the following:

  • Seek advice – sometimes it can be hard to see a situation clearly. A health and safety officer, human resources officer or union representative can provide helpful advice on your unique situation.
  • Refer to workplace policies and procedures – these should outline how your workplace deals with workplace bullying, and what strategies they have in place to prevent it.
  • Speak to the other person – this can be challenging and it is worth asking a third party, such as your health and safety officer, to be with you.
  • Report it – you may report bullying to your supervisor/manager, your health and safety officer or your union representative. 

If you work in an organisation governed by the Fair Work Act, you may also apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying. Courts can impose significant penalties on parties who don’t comply with such an order.

Need more information?

Government websites offer detailed explanations of what constitutes workplace bullying, workers’ rights under current legislation and advice on what to do if you or a co-worker is the victim of workplace bullying: