Workplace Bullying – What is It, and what is it not?

Have you been managing bullying in your workplace? Do you know what to do?

We’ve outlined what your workplace needs to know in this blog.

What is Workplace Bullying? 

Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) at s 789FD determines that “workplace bullying” has occurred where:

  • an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards another worker; and
  • that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety of that worker or another staff member.

So long as the behaviour ‘creates a risk to the health and safety of a worker’, behaviour may be a range of types, including:

  • verbal;
  • physical;
  • social; and
  • psychological.

In addition, behaviour may still be “workplace bullying” despite the fact that an employee is not formally employed or paid. People performing volunteer work and work experience may still be found to be subject to workplace bullying.

Serious workplace bullying in Victoria can also constitute a criminal offence, punishable by up to 10 years’ jail.

What is not workplace bullying?

Causing ‘risk to health and safety’ of another worker can be a high threshold to meet and means that that many workplace practices which are considered ‘unfair’ may not necessarily be considered ‘workplace bullying’.

For example, an employer may demote, discipline, or fire an employee and so long as they are acting reasonably and not in a discriminatory manner, such behaviour will not constitute “workplace bullying”.

As an Employer – What do I need to consider?

Companies have a significant legal responsibility under Occupational Health and Safety and anti-discrimination laws to provide a “safe” workplace, and to ensure employees’ wellbeing and health.

Accordingly, employers that permit bullying in the workplace are failing to meet this responsibility, may be liable for breaches of OH&S obligations and subject to anti bullying claims within the Fair Work Commission.

Accordingly, we recommend that as an employer you:

  1. ensure to take any complaints of workplace bullying seriously;
  2. make detailed file notes of employee meetings, especially during a performance management processes; and
  3. speak to expert advisors when issues arise that are beyond your expertise.

Need Assistance? Contact our team of Workplace Relations Lawyers on 0424 103 551.

Susanna Ritchie

Susanna Ritchie

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