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.

Other risks

There are other risks associated with bullying. Apart from creating a risk to health and safety, bullying can result in costs to your business through increased absenteeism and high staff turnover, both of which result in reduced productivity. Then there are the legal claims by employees for damages and costs.

You can face liability under the Fair Work Act in two ways - under the anti-bullying scheme and through an unfair dismissal claim.

A worker who believes they have been bullied at work may apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order to stop the bullying.

Even though the anti-bullying scheme came into effect on 1 January 2014, the FWC has ruled that it can consider behaviour that occurred before that date when dealing with applications for orders to stop the conduct. This means that if bullying began in 2013, even though the laws weren’t in place then, the FWC can look at that past conduct in its decision.

Unfair dismissal

A bullying victim who resigns may be able to make an unfair dismissal claim on the basis that the resignation was actually a constructive dismissal. A constructive dismissal occurs when a worker is forced to resign. A resignation is not voluntary if it is due to the worker being bullied in the workplace.


Top stories for Bullying in the Workplace


Worker loses application for order to stop bullying

Bullying in the Workplace

A shopping centre cleaner who was excluded from joining a Christmas lunch was not bullied, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has ruled. The worker’s employer expressed concerns about her work performance months after the event and had issued her with […]

By Portner Press on August 15th, 2019

Allianz must pay $1.4m for its manager’s violent behaviour

Bullying in the Workplace

While there is still contention about whether it is wrong to smack children, one would assume that it is fairly cut and dried that no boss should ever smack their workers. Not according to one manager at Allianz however. When […]

By Portner Press on August 2nd, 2019

Bullying not a reason for dismissal if allegations are unfounded

Bullying in the Workplace

In the case of Steven Biffin v XL Express Pty Ltd (2017), the Fair Work Commission (FWC) ordered an employer to pay about $50,000 in compensation to a manager it dismissed for bullying. The manager was dismissed for serious misconduct […]

By Portner Press on July 26th, 2019

Tradesman fined for bullying apprentices

Bullying in the Workplace

SafeWork NSW has convicted and fined a tradesman for bullying two young apprentices. Carpenter and joiner Paul Kearney pleaded guilty to a Category 3 breach under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) for failing to comply with his […]

By Portner Press on July 19th, 2019

SafeWork SA prosecutes bully under harmonised WHS legislation

Bullying in the Workplace

Jeffrey Mark Rowe is the first person in South Australia to be fined and prosecuted for a Category 1 offence under section 31 of the nationally harmonised Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (WHS Act). The 47-year-old supervisor pleaded guilty […]

By Portner Press on July 4th, 2019

Manager’s aggressive manner found in breach of Victorian OHS Act

Bullying in the Workplace

An operations manager at a security firm has been ordered to write a letter of gratitude to a worker who informed WorkSafe Victoria about his bullying behaviour. He was charged at the Broadmeadows Magistrates’ Court in Melbourne for breaching section […]

By Portner Press on June 25th, 2019

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

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

How to avoid bullying claims when managing workers

Bullying in the Workplace

In this article we examine how you can prevent inadvertently crossing this line and avoid an expensive bullying claim.

By Portner Press on May 2nd, 2019