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Bullying is harmful behaviour that is directed towards a person or group of people. It is repeated, unreasonable and unwelcome. Bullying can cause either physical or psychological harm. Bullying within the workplace creates a risk to the health and safety of your workers. While no specific mention is made of bullying in health and safety legislation, the same legislation imposes a general duty on you to protect the health, safety and welfare of your workers. Workplace bullying isn’t just confined to the physical workspace. Bullying can also occur online, particularly through email or social media, and at any time of the day or night. There are two types of bullying that can occur in the workplace - direct and indirect bullying. Direct bullying is behaviour that is overt and often involves direct steps or conduct to belittle or demean a person or a group of people. Examples include:
  • abusive, insulting or offensive language;
  • spreading misinformation or malicious rumours;
  • behaviour or language that frightens, humiliates, belittles or degrades, including criticism delivered with yelling or screaming;
  • displaying offensive material, e.g. pornography;
  • making inappropriate comments about a person’s appearance, lifestyle or family;
  • teasing or regularly making someone the brunt of pranks or practical jokes;
  • interfering with a person’s property or work equipment, e.g. hiding or defacing someone’s property; and
  • harmful or offensive initiation processes.
Indirect bullying is behaviour that often involves treatment that excludes or removes benefits from a person or group of people, including:
  • deliberately or maliciously overloading a person with work or not providing enough work;
  • unreasonably setting timelines that are difficult to achieve or constantly changing deadlines;
  • setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a person’s skill level;
  • deliberately excluding, isolating or marginalising a person from normal work activities, e.g. excluding a worker from meetings or functions that everyone else attends;
  • withholding information that is vital for effective work performance;
  • deliberately denying access to information, consultation or resources;
  • deliberately changing work arrangements such as rosters and leave to inconvenience a particular worker or workers; and
  • unfair treatment in relation to accessing workplace entitlements, e.g. leave or training.
A wide range of injuries and illnesses can result from bullying, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, stress, self-harm, eating disorders, and even suicide. Harassment Workplace harassment is prohibited by anti-discrimination legislation in all states and territories. A common form of harassment is sexual harassment, which occurs when a person is subjected to any unwanted or uninvited sexual behaviour that is offensive, intimidating or humiliating. Sexual harassment can include the following types of behaviour:
  • unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature;
  • unwanted sexual advances or requests for sexual favours;
  • unwelcome remarks or statements with sexual connotations;
  • any unwelcome gesture, action or comment of a sexual nature;
  • staring or leering at someone in a sexual manner;
  • unwanted sexual or physical contact, e.g. kissing, inappropriate touching or hugging; intrusive questions about someone’s sexual activity; and
  • repeated invitations of a sexual nature when similar invitations have previously been refused by that person.
Discrimination Discrimination is treating a person less favourably than another person or group because of their race, colour, national origin, gender, disability, religion, or some other attribute or characteristic as specified under anti-discrimination or human rights legislation. There are two types of discrimination – direct and indirect. Direct discrimination is treating a person with a prescribed attribute differently than a person without that attribute. You will directly discriminate against an employee if the way you treat them is because of an attribute they have, or a characteristic that people with that attribute generally have (even if that is not the only reason for the treatment). If you treat an employee with an attribute less favourably than you treat or would treat another employee without that attribute in the same circumstances, that’s direct discrimination. Indirect discrimination is imposing a requirement, condition or practice on someone that a person with a certain attribute does not or cannot comply with. You will indirectly discriminate against an employee on the grounds of an attribute they have if you impose, or intend to impose, a workplace practice or requirement that is unreasonable in the circumstances and is likely to disadvantage people with the same attribute as the employee.
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Top stories for Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination

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Your questions answered: Is photographing shoddy work bullying?

Bullying in the Workplace

Q One of our workers has been taking photos of a co-worker in relation to their work quality (or the lack of it), then handing it to their section manager. This is causing unreasonable pressure on the worker who is […]

By Portner Press on June 7th, 2019

Employer must pay $75,000 in settlement to racially abused worker

Discrimination in the workplace

Imagine your workers are taunting an African worker for being black. They make monkey noises at him, leave bananas on his desk, tell him he isn’t Australian, suggest he is part of an ‘African gang’ and a terrorist and leave […]

By Portner Press on June 7th, 2019

Your questions answered: Is asking workers about infectious or communicable diseases compliant with anti-discrimination laws?

Discrimination in the workplace

Q I am writing a policy and procedure for the control of infectious and communicable diseases in a community service organisation. Service users range from children to the aged and frail. The general approach to control is to assume the […]

By Portner Press on May 31st, 2019

Your questions answered: How can we avoid Hepatitis C discrimination?

Discrimination in the workplace

Q Our workplace based in the Northern Territory has a designated first aid officer who has Hepatitis C. The employee works at a location where first aid may at times need to be administered to members of the public. Due […]

By Portner Press on May 30th, 2019

Your questions answered: Are pre-employment medical assessments discriminatory?

Discrimination in the workplace

Q My sales and distribution business operates within the metals industry. We are considering pre-employment medicals for new warehouse/delivery driver employees. Would you please advise what legal requirements, if any, we need to consider? Is it discrimination to request a […]

By Portner Press on May 21st, 2019

New whistleblower laws in force NOW

Discrimination in the workplace

The changes to whistleblower laws in Australia may also have an impact on work health and safety obligations to protect the whistleblowers from bullying or victimisation if their identity becomes known. The Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Act 2019 […]

By Michael Selinger on May 17th, 2019

Workplace bully receives hefty personal fine

Bullying in the Workplace

WorkSafe Victoria has convicted and fined a manager for bullying a storeman. Matthew John Sallama, the son of the owner of the now-liquidated John’s Nuts, pleaded guilty in Sunshine Magistrate’s Court to breaching the state’s Occupational Health and Safety Act. […]

By Portner Press on May 10th, 2019

Your questions answered: Can we conduct a health and safety risk assessment on a bullying manager?

Bullying in the Workplace

Q I have been asked by our company to perform a risk assessment on a manager who has been accused of bullying on 3 occasions in the past 8 years (inconclusive investigations). I have provided my managers with advice that […]

By Portner Press on May 9th, 2019

Labour hire company and contractor face court over age discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace

The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) has caught labour hire company Corestaff WA and its client Gumala Enterprises committing an ultimate recruitment no-no. ABCC has launched Federal Court proceedings against the companies, alleging that they discriminated against a worker […]

By Portner Press on May 7th, 2019

Your questions answered: Is hiring someone with a pre-existing injury risky?

Discrimination in the workplace

Q Can you please assist by outlining some recommendations when requesting a ‘fitness to work’ for an applicant who has passed the interview selection within our recruitment process? Are we putting our organisation at risk of a possible future workers’ compensation claim by […]

By Portner Press on May 7th, 2019