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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.

Top stories for Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination


Was the FWC too slow dismissing a general protections claim?

Discrimination in the workplace

  In Mandy Lee Baillie (2020) the Fair Work Commission (FWC) dismissed a 14-day-late general protections application when it found the reasons provided for the delay were obviously not true. But it took the FWC nearly seven months to dismiss […]

By Portner Press on January 28th, 2020

How to identify indirect bullying in your workplace

Bullying in the Workplace

  Workplace bullying can come in all shapes and sizes and frequently workers will claim bullying arising from repeated indirect behaviours such as: deliberately or maliciously overloading a person with work or not providing enough work; unreasonably setting timelines that […]

By Portner Press on December 17th, 2019

Employer fined $125,000 for ‘hurt and humiliation’ of disabled worker

Discrimination in the workplace

  In Bristow v Sonny’s Restaurant & Bar & Ors (2019), an employer was ordered to pay around $125,000 for the “extremely hurtful” way it treated a worker suffering with chronic regional pain syndrome and fibromyalgia. Out of that penalty, […]

By Portner Press on November 26th, 2019

Your questions answered: Do we have to provide ergonomic support in a company car?

Discrimination in the workplace

Q If a sales representative who spends most of his day in a company car has a neck injury that makes sitting in the car for long periods uncomfortable, is the employer responsible for providing an ergonomic back support to […]

By Portner Press on November 21st, 2019

Absence of social media policy works in bully’s favour

Bullying in the Workplace

  In Clint Remmert v Broken Hill Operations Pty Ltd T/A Rasp Mine (2016), the Fair Work Commission (FWC) found a “relevant and sufficient connection” between a mine maintenance fitter’s out-of-work bullying and the employment relationship, after he was dismissed […]

By Portner Press on October 24th, 2019

Judge accepts workplace bullying claim 3 years after limitation period

Bullying in the Workplace

  A worker who lodged a bullying claim more than three years after the limitation period has been granted an extension of time to have her case heard. The worker claimed that during her employment at Holyoake Industries Pty Ltd […]

By Portner Press on October 17th, 2019

Worker accused of sexual harassment wins compensation for psychiatric injury

Workplace Harassment

Good employers know they should never ignore a sexual harassment complaint. But, on the other side of the coin, can employers actually be too proactive in dealing with a complaint? Shoalhaven City Council in New South Wales discovered that reacting […]

By Portner Press on October 3rd, 2019

Your questions answered: Can pre-employment medicals be 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 September 27th, 2019

Discrimination against pregnant worker costs employer $40K

Discrimination in the workplace

An employer that refused to redeploy or provide unpaid leave to a pregnant worker has been ordered to pay her nearly $40,000 compensation in an adverse action claim. In Leutton v Sheralee Hotels Pty Ltd Trading As Imperial Tavern & […]

By Portner Press on September 24th, 2019

Employer must pay bullying workers FWC rules

Bullying in the Workplace

Fair Work Commission (FWC) Commissioner Jennifer Hunt has ordered an employer to compensate two casual workers for not providing them with work, even though they engaged in behaviour that was tantamount to serious misconduct. In Mrs Carmen-May Olver: Mrs Linda […]

By Portner Press on September 19th, 2019