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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


How to avoid legal risk when conducting complex bullying investigations

Bullying in the Workplace

Workplace bullying is an extreme form of misconduct and must be dealt with as such. It involves repeated acts or omissions that: are unreasonable; hurt, intimidate or humiliate the victim; and create a risk to health and safety. Any investigation […]

By Portner Press on April 11th, 2019

Breaking wind is not bullying rules Supreme Court judge

Bullying in the Workplace

A Melbourne engineer who sued his former employer $1.8 million for a supervisor’s serial flatulence has lost his appeal case in the Victorian Supreme Court.

By Portner Press on April 9th, 2019

Sexually harassed worker wins $150K in damages

Workplace Harassment

Workplace sexual harassment can lead to sexual assault. Especially if a manager directs a worker who sexually harassed a female colleague to drive her home when she is feeling sick.

By Portner Press on March 12th, 2019

Your questions answered: Do job candidates have to disclose medical issues?

Discrimination in the workplace

Q: Is a job candidate required to disclose medical issues during the recruitment process?

By Portner Press on February 25th, 2019

VW dealership manager sacked for inappropriate comments

Workplace Harassment

The FWC ruled that a car dealership manager who was sacked for allegedly physically threatening a young female worker and on another occasion telling her to “show them your tits” cannot appeal his dismissal.

By Portner Press on February 21st, 2019

Your questions answered: Can we dismiss a worker who is unhealthy and unfit for work?

Discrimination in the workplace

Q: We have exhausted all avenues with helping our worker who has ongoing health issues (not work-related), but the worker is taking more and more time off work. What is fair dismissal when someone is unfit for work?

By Portner Press on February 15th, 2019

Why you should recruit mature-age workers

Discrimination in the workplace

Employers are beginning to embrace older workers, reaping the economic and other rewards that their wisdom and resilience can bring to an organisation.

By Portner Press on February 12th, 2019

Employer found responsible for toxic workplace culture, not workers

Bullying in the Workplace

  A worker may not be accountable for bullying colleagues if management fails to control the ‘toxic’ culture of the workplace. In Rojas v Beacon Products Pty Ltd (2018), an Administration Assistant who was dismissed for bullying filed an unfair […]

By Portner Press on February 5th, 2019

4 steps to limit your liability to a sexual harassment claim

Workplace Harassment

It is important to know what you can be held vicariously liable for, and be able to prove that you did everything possible to prevent your employees from engaging in unlawful behaviour.

By Portner Press on January 17th, 2019

Performance management and bullying – Do you know the difference?

Bullying in the Workplace

Employers can performance-manage employees without claims of bullying or workers’ comp provided they have robust policies and procedures in place.

By Portner Press on December 18th, 2018