What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by your employer (or manager), another person or group of people at work which causes a risk to the health and safety of another person.

Workplace bullying can happen in any type of workplace and can happen to volunteers, work experience students, interns, apprentices, contractors as well as casual or permanent employees. In Victoria, some types of serious workplace bullying also constitute a criminal offence (punishable by up to 10 years’ jail!).

It is vitally important to identify what bullying is but, given the misconception (and overuse) of this term, it is equally important to be clear on what workplace bullying is not. For example, workplace practices which are unfair are not, prima facie, bullying.

You can have a bad (or biased, or rude) boss and this does not make him/her a ‘workplace bully’. An employer can transfer, demote, discipline, counsel, retrench or sack an employee and, as long as they are acting reasonably and not in a discriminatory manner) this will not be bullying or otherwise illegal. Indeed, the legislative definition of workplace bullying requiring the conduct in question to represent a “risk to health and safety” of another person means this can be a high hurdle to overcome, meaning much workplace conduct is often unfair and unreasonable, but not necessarily bullying.

Bullying in the workplace is important for employers as a company (and its managers) have onerous legal responsibilities under Occupational Health and Safety and anti-discrimination law to provide a “safe” workplace, and to ensure (as far as reasonably practicable) employees’ wellbeing and health whilst at work is being preserved and protected. An employer that allows bullying to occur in the workplace is not meeting this responsibility and will face severe legal consequences for this omission.

Mark Ritchie

Mark Ritchie

Mark is passionate about helping Australian businesses efficiently resolve their industrial relations issues. Mark has demonstrated proficiency advising managers, executives and boards of small to medium-sized enterprises, as well as some of Australia’s best-known companies, on both litigious and non-litigious matters.

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