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“Is not!”…”Is so!”: Workplace bullying and you

Unfortunately, we live in a world where the word “bullying” seems to be more frequently used than ever before. From time to time I receive calls from employers seeking information on what actually constitutes workplace bullying. Let’s check out some key definitions and go from there.

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.

Repeated behaviour refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can involve a range of behaviours over time.

Unreasonable behaviour means behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable, including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.

Examples of behaviour – whether intentional or unintentional – that may be workplace bullying if they are repeated, unreasonable and creates a risk to health and safety can include:

  • abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments
  • unjustified criticism or complaints
  • deliberately excluding someone from workplace activities
  • withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
  • denying access to information, supervision, consultation or resources to the detriment of the worker

While having an understanding of the range of behaviours and actions that might constitute workplace bullying, equally important is knowing what does not constitute bullying. The following are some examples:

  • Single incidents: a single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not workplace bullying, however it may be repeated or escalate and so should not be ignored.
  • Reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way: an employer may take reasonable management action to effectively direct and control the way work is carried out. It is reasonable for managers and supervisors to allocate work and give feedback on a worker’s performance.
  • Unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment: unreasonable behaviour may involve unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment which, by itself, is not bullying. However, discrimination on the basis of a protected trait in employment may be unlawful under anti-discrimination, equal employment opportunity, workplace relations and human rights laws.
  • Workplace conflicts: differences of opinion and disagreements are generally not workplace bullying. People can have differences or disagreements in the workplace without engaging in repeated, unreasonable behaviour that creates a risk to health and safety.

There’s no shortage of resources for employers on the topics of workplace bullying and harassment. Check out the Fair Work Ombudsman’s information pack on the topic here.

Bare Bones Consulting has resources, information and the knowledge to help manage your risk around workplace bullying and harassment. We can put a structure in place to ensure each member of your team is aware of their duty of care obligations or, if you’re ever in the position of having to address a bullying complaint, we can help navigate the legal minefield to get you through it…with less drama, time and expense. Sound good? Talk to you soon.


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Note: Bare Bones Consulting provides HR services for employers. Employees seeking advice on workplace concerns should contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.