What is bullying?  

Workplace bullying occurs when an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work, and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Examples of bullying can include:

  • aggressive and intimidating conduct
  • belittling or humiliating comments
  • victimisation
  • spreading malicious rumours
  • practical jokes or initiation
  • exclusion from work-related events
  • unreasonable work expectations.

Sometimes bullying behaviour also breaches other laws such as sexual harassment discrimination lawworkplace health and safety  or criminal law.

What is not bullying?

  • Reasonable management action undertaken in a reasonable way—a supervisor/ manager has the right to exercise their authority to direct and control how work is done. This may include managing under-performance, and setting goals and deadlines for staff.
  • Conflict at work—occasional and non-aggressive conflicts and problems at work are to be expected. Such conflicts can make employees feel upset but will not always amount to bullying.
  • Isolated acts—a single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not bullying (although, depending on what it is, it may breach other laws).

What steps should you take if you think bullying has happened to you?

If you believe you are being bullied, and it is safe to do so, you can ask the person to stop and let them know that what they are doing is unreasonable. This gives the person a chance to change their behaviour before the matter escalates.

Report the bullying at your workplace to your supervisor or, if the person that is bullying you is your supervisor, you should report it to another manager.

If you believe someone is bullying you, before reporting it to your supervisor, you should:

  • write down your concerns and desired outcome
  • weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of resolving the complaint informally or formally
  • learn about the support available to you from your workplace and external agencies (e.g. counselling and your workplace’s bullying prevention policy).

If you need assistance, you should seek support in raising your concerns to

  • a supervisor or manager
  • a workplace health and safety representative
  • your union.

What action can be taken outside the workplace to stop bullying?

Make an application to the Fair Work Commission

A worker who is bullied at work can make an application to the Fair Work Commission at any time during their employment. On receipt of an application, the Fair Work Commission has powers including conducting a conference or holding a hearing. If the Fair Work Commission is satisfied the worker has been bullied at work and there is a risk they will continued to be bullied, it may make orders it considers appropriate to prevent the bullying. The Fair Work Commission has no powers to award compensation or penalties in these types of applications as the jurisdiction is designed to restore working relationships so that all parties can continue with the employment relationship without negative effect upon the worker’s health and safety.

To understand if you are eligible to make a bullying complaint to the Fair Work Commission, you should take the Fair Work Commission’s eligibility quiz.

Almost all bullying complaints made to the Fair Work Commission resolve by agreement between the parties.

What can the Fair Work Commission order?

The Fair Work Commission has a broad discretion to decide on a variety of orders it considers appropriate however, it cannot award financial compensation.

If you require further information about the bullying process in the Fair Work Commission, you should read the Fair Work Commission’s Anti-Bullying Benchbook.

Make a complaint to the Department of Education and Training

The Department of Education and Training can respond to some apprentice and trainee complaints about workplace bullying.

Make a complaint to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland can investigate complaints that are:

  • about workplace harassment (other than sexual harassment)
  • covered by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld).

To make a complaint to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, you should contact them on 1300 369 915.

When bulling causes psychological injury

Bullying is a workplace health and safety risk and may cause an injury. The Fair Work Commission can only help stop the bullying from continuing. An employee who is injured at work should get advice from a lawyer practising in workers compensation and personal injury law.