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Workplace Bullying and Harassment


Workplace bullying and harassment is prohibited under WHS legislation and Fair Work Act. Not only does it have a negative impact on the work environment, but can also cause serious harm to the person experiencing it, such as depression and thoughts of suicide.

Under WHS legislation, a PCBU has the primary duty of care to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that workers and others are not exposed to health and safety risks at the workplace. This includes managing the health and safety risks of workplace bullying and harassment.

What is workplace bullying and harassment?

Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed at a worker or group of workers, in circumstances where the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety. However, reasonable performance management action carried out in a reasonable way is not bullying.

Workplace harassment is unreasonable behaviour that may involve unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment, which in isolation is not workplace bullying.

Why having effective workplace bully and harassment policies in place is important?

Where an employee sues an employer for workplace bullying or harassment, the tribunal and court will look at whether the employer has taken reasonable steps to eliminate the risks of workplace bullying and harassment. Having, implementing, and following an effective workplace bully and harassment policy plays a significant role in assisting the tribunal and court to make a favourable decision for the employer.

The members are strongly encouraged to have workplace bully and harassment policies in place and to respond appropriately to employee complaints.  Your workplace bullying and harassment policies should set out the process in responding to complaints and appropriate mechanisms in supporting employees who make complaints. You should be receptive and thorough when receiving and responding to workplace bully and harassment complaints. You should try to resolve the complaints internally either through informal or formal process (as per the company policies and procedures). If the issue cannot be resolved internally, depending on the circumstances, you may consider engaging an independent investigator to investigate the complaint.

How to raise awareness of workplace bullying and harassment?

Where the workplace bullying and harassment policies/procedures exist, it is important that you communicate the policies/procedures to the workers. Training is the most common method to raise awareness of a workplace culture issue. Members are recommended to have their workers trained in the areas of bullying and harassment once every year, and whenever the relevant workplace policies/procedures are updated. If a workplace culture issue occurs, training should be done as a matter of priority to address those concerns.

Further information about work-related bullying, including incident notification, can be found here.