Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying at work happens when:

  • a person or group of people repeatedly behave unreasonably towards another worker or group of workers
  • the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Examples of bullying include:

  • behaving aggressively towards others
  • teasing or playing practical jokes
  • pressuring someone to behave inappropriately
  • excluding someone from work-related events
  • unreasonable work demands.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

Under the Fair Work Act, sexual harassment at work happens when a worker or group of workers:

  • makes an unwelcome sexual advance
  • makes an unwelcome request for sexual favours
  • engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to another worker.

To be sexual harassment, it has to be reasonable to expect that there is a possibility that the worker being sexually harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Some forms of sexual harassment can also be considered bullying if the behaviour is repeated or continuous. But unlike bullying, sexual harassment does not need to be continuous or repeated behaviour, it can be a one-off event. There is also no need to establish a risk to health and safety.

Discrimination in the workplace

Bullying is different from discrimination. The Fair Work Act prohibits an employer from taking adverse action against an employee for discriminatory reasons, including their sex, race, religion or gender. Adverse action can include firing or demoting someone.

Bullying doesn’t have to be related to a person’s or group’s characteristics. Adverse action doesn’t have to have happened for bullying to occur.

What effect can bullying have?

Bullying can be very hurtful and cause lots of pain. You may:

Have trouble sleeping
Lose your appetite
Have trouble concentrating
Feel down about yourself
Find it hard to cope
Have thoughts of hurting yourself
Feel suicidal
Have trouble with completing tasks
Feel physically sick
Feel hopeless or powerless
Feel alone, sad, angry or confused
Feel unsafe or afraid

Reasonable management action

Reasonable management action that’s carried out in a reasonable way is not bullying.

An employer or manager can:

  • make decisions about poor performance
  • take disciplinary action
  • direct and control the way work is carried out.

Management action that isn’t carried out in a reasonable way may be considered bullying.

Protection from bullying in the workplace

The laws to stop bullying under the Fair Work Act only apply to certain workers in Australia. A worker includes:

  • an employee
  • a contractor or subcontractor
  • an outworker
  • an apprentice or a trainee
  • an intern
  • a student gaining work experience
  • some volunteers.

Where to get workplace help.

For employees

In the workplace

If you think bullying, sexual harassment or discrimination has happened at your workplace, you can talk to:

  • a supervisor or manager
  • a health and safety representative
  • the human resources department
  • a union
  • a lawyer.

Other bodies

You can also act by contacting:

  • your relevant state or territory anti-discrimination body
  • your relevant state or territory workplace health and safety body. They can provide:
    • advice and assistance about workplace bullying
    • appropriate referrals to other bodies.

Managing Performance

Action carried out by a manager in a reasonable way isn’t bullying.

The best businesses are always improving their operations to stay competitive in their industry. To be able to do this, employees and managers need to be performing to a high standard.

  • High performance in business means:
  • increased productivity
  • engaged and committed employees
  • retaining good employees.

Underperforming employees can have a negative effect on a business, such as:

  • unhappy customers or clients
  • decreased productivity
  • high turnover
  • unmotivated and underperforming employees.


Underperformance is when an employee isn’t doing their job properly or is behaving in an unacceptable way at work. It includes:

  • not carrying out their work to the required standard or not doing their job at all
  • not following workplace policies, rules or procedures
  • unacceptable behaviour at work (for example, telling inappropriate jokes)
  • disruptive or negative behaviour at work (for example, constantly speaking negatively about the company).

There is a difference between underperformance and serious misconduct.

Serious misconduct

Serious misconduct is when an employee:

  • causes serious and imminent risk to the health and safety of another person or to the reputation or profits of their employer’s business
  • deliberately behaves in a way that’s inconsistent with continuing their employment.

Examples of appropriate actions and messages:

Acting respectfully means:

  • Being courteous and polite 
  • Taking other peoples’ opinions into consideration
  • Using an appropriate tone of voice
  • Respecting organizational structure
  • Being on time

Working collaboratively means:

  • Colleagues helping one another
  • Being positive and receptive
  • Gaining independence as a result of collaboration 
  • Sharing ideas and knowledge
  • Being conscientious

Being open means:

  • Accepting and adapting to change
  • Respecting other peoples’ tastes and customs 
  • Giving other people the chance to express themselves
  • Being able to reach a compromise in the event of a conflict
  • Respecting differences of opinion

Communicating effectively means:

  • Being a good listener, being receptive
  • Making sure your message is properly understood
  • Having empathy 
  • Sharing information in a timely manner
  • Adopting a pleasant tone