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What is workplace bullying?

Fair Work Australia offers the following definition.

Workplace bullying occurs when:

  • an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work;


  • the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Reasonable management action conducted in a reasonable manner does not constitute workplace bullying.

*Benchbook Anti-bullying, FWC, Jan 2014 (note various State WHS legislation, Codes of Practice and Guides contain similar definitions)

"Repeated" refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can be a range of behaviours over time. 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.

"Unreasonable" means behaviour that a reasonable person, having regard to the circumstances, may see as unreasonable. This would include, but is not limited to behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, undermining or threatening.

"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 bullying behaviour must create the risk to health and safety. Therefore there must be a causal link between the behaviour and the risk.

WHS law places duties on employers to eliminate, so far as is reasonably practicable, risks to the health and safety of their employees. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate risks to health and safety, then an employer must reduce those risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

WHS law also places duties on employees to take reasonable care for the health and safety of persons who may be affected by their acts or omissions at a workplace and to cooperate with their employer's actions taken to comply with the relevant WHS or OHS Act.

Single incidents

A single incident of negative behaviour has the potential to escalate into bullying and therefore should not be ignored. Single incidents can still create a risk to health and safety.

Examples of behaviours that could be considered bullying:

  • Aggressive & intimidating conduct.
  • Belittling or humiliating comments.
  • Victimisation.
  • Spreading malicious rumours.
  • Practical jokes or initiation.
  • Exclusion from work-related events.
  • Unreasonable work expectations, such as setting tasks that are unreasonably above or below an employee's ability, setting timelines that are very difficult to achieve.
  • Pressure to behave in an inappropriate manner.
  • Verbal abuse.
  • Putting someone down.
  • Interfering with someone's personal property or work equipment.
  • Unjustified criticism or complaints.
  • Deliberately denying access to information or other resources.
  • Withholding information that is vital for effective work performance.
  • Deliberately changing work arrangements, such as rosters and leave, to inconvenience a particular employee or employees.
  • Excessive scrutiny of work.

Bullying can be carried out verbally, physically or in writing, e.g. via email, texts, instant messaging or via social media.

Bullying can be direct and obvious or it can involve less overt, less severe and more subtle behaviours. It can be directed in a range of ways– downwards (from supervisors or managers to employees), sideways (between employees or co-workers) and upwards (from employees to supervisors or managers).

Bullying can be directed at a single employee or a group of employees. It can be carried out by one or more employees.

iHR has consultants to assist organisations in identifying what is workplace bullying and how to prevent it in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide, Darwin and Canberra please contact us on 1300 884 687 or make an online enquiry

Melbourne Office : 
Suite 11, 828 High Street Kew East Victoria 3102
Sydney Office :
Level 34 AMP Tower, 50 Bridge Street, Sydney 2000

Bangkok Office :

88 Paso Tower 14th Floor Unit A1 Silom Road , Suriyawong, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500

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