Bullying at Work

Bullying at work is never acceptable. You have a right to a safe and healthy workplace, and bullying is an occupational health and safety hazard. If you are being bullied, or see someone else being bullied, you need to act immediately.

What is bullying?

Workplace bullying can be verbal, physical, social or psychological. It can come from your employer or manager, a workmate or any individual or group of people at work. It can happen in any type of workplace and to all levels of workers. Some types of workplace bullying are also criminal offenses.

Types of bullying

In general, bullying:

  • is repeated and enduring
  • inappropriate and possibly aggressive
  • causes you psychological and/or physical distress.

Bullying in the workplace can take many forms, including:

  • making fun of your work or you as a person
  • making hurtful comments about you, your family, sex, gender, sexuality, race or culture, education or economic background, looks, physique or attitudes
  • sexual harassment, especially touching, sexually explicit comments or repeated requests that make you feel uncomfortable
  • being excluded from certain work activities
  • ganging up on you or making you feel intimidated
  • giving you pointless tasks that have nothing to do with your job
  • frequent unjustified criticisms or complaints
  • deliberately denying you important information or access to meetings
  • setting tasks that are unreasonably above or below your ability
  • giving you impossible jobs or timelines
  • being excessively scrutinised at work
  • deliberately changing your work hours or roster to make it difficult from you
  • physical abuse, like shoving, tripping or grabbing
  • threatening you with equipment or any type of object that could be a weapon
  • being made to do humiliating or inappropriate things to be accepted as part of a team.

What is not bullying?

Management actions carried out in a reasonable and fair way are not bullying. It is reasonable for management to:

  • set performance targets, standards and deadlines
  • allocate work to a particular worker
  • set rosters and allocate working hours
  • transfer someone from one job to another
  • choose who they want to promote
  • tell a worker they are not performing at a satisfactory level
  • tell a worker if they are behaving inappropriately
  • make changes in the workplace
  • give constructive feedback.

Carried out in a fair and reasonable way, these kinds of actions are not bullying.

Bullying can also be discrimination

Protection from bullying is a basic human right. If you are being bullied because of your age, sex, pregnancy, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or certain other reasons, you may also be being discriminated against.

For more information on anti-discrimination laws, go to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Bullying can also be child-abuse

If you are under 16 years old, workplace bullying may also be child abuse. Child abuse is against the law.

What to do if you are being bullied

You have a right to a safe workplace free from violence, harassment and bullying. If you are being bullied, there are things you can do and people who can help. Here’s some initial steps:

  1. Write down what’s happening

    To prove that bullying is happening, you need to be able to show that it is repeated and enduring. So keep a diary or make a note of what happens, who is involved and when it happens, including anything you have done to try to stop it. This will help you if you later make a complaint.

  2. Check your workplace bullying policy

    Find out if your workplace has a bullying policy. If it does, then it may contain information about the procedure you should follow in your workplace to make a complaint.

  3. Talk to someone you trust

    You don’t have to do this alone. If you have a trusted colleague in your workplace, talk to them. You may have a human resources department you can approach, or a health and safety representative. You can always ask your union for help. You can either ring the union office or ask the union delegate in your workplace.

  4. Approaching the bully?

    Only approach the bully if you feel confident about doing so. If you do, tell them that their behaviour is unwanted and not acceptable. Sometimes it’s good to get advice from a manager or colleague or union on how to do this.

  5. Get outside help

    If there is no-one you can safely talk to at work, or the bullying continues after complaining to your manager or the appropriate person at work, get outside help.

Your union is always available to give you advice on your options and rights .Call the office on (03) 663 6815.

You can also contact the Australian Human Rights Commission to get advice or make a complaint about discrimination, harassment and bullying covered by anti-discrimination law.

Workplace Victoria can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying.

The Commonwealth Fairwork Ombudsman can provide information and advice about Australia’s workplace rights and rules and the protection you have against harassment and discrimination. Call 13 13 94

Bullying is your employer’s responsibility

Your employer is legally required under occupational health and safety and anti-discrimination law to provide you with a safe workplace. If your employer is allowing bullying to occur in the workplace, then they are not meeting this responsibility.

Stopping bullying is everyone’s responsibility

Bullying can only occur if people in the situation allow it to happen. Everyone has a moral responsibility to help prevent bullying and to create positive, safe workplaces. You can help stop bullying by standing up for someone who is being bullied and

  • tell the person acting like a bully to stop
  • talk to a supervisor or manager
  • don’t watch or join in.

You can also tell someone who you see being bullied about the steps they can take to deal with it.

Where to get help

There are several places to get help.

  • Your union workplace representative can help you get the information you need and provide support to deal with bullying.
  • As bullying is a health and safety issue, your workplace health and safety representative (if you have one) is also someone you can ask for help.
  • Call your union office on (03) 9663 6815
  • Workplace Victoria can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying.
  • Contact the Commonwealth Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94
  • You can also contact the Australian Human Rights Commission to get advice or make a complaint about discrimination, harassment and bullying covered by anti-discrimination law.
  • If the bullying is serious and involves immediate violence, call the Police on 000.
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