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


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

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

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

Security company and its director fined $116k for bullying

Bullying in the Workplace

Melbourne security company Monjon (Australia) Pty Ltd and its director John Bernard Moncrieff have been fined a total of $116,250 for bullying offences. The Broadmeadows Magistrates’ Court heard that WorkSafe Victoria was called to the company’s office after an incident […]

By Portner Press on September 17th, 2019

Second supervisor fined for setting apprentice on fire

Bullying in the Workplace

“It is not enough for a business to just have a ‘no bullying’ policy,” SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell has warned employers. His comment comes in the wake a second bully’s conviction for a Category 1 breach under the […]

By Portner Press on September 10th, 2019

ICAC report reveals ‘shocking’ behaviour in SA public sector

Bullying in the Workplace

South Australia’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Bruce Lander QC, has recently published a second report from the ICAC Public Integrity Survey that was conducted last year. The qualitative report In Their Own Words reveals “sobering and in many instances shocking” […]

By Portner Press on September 6th, 2019

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