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As an employer, it is your responsibility to build and maintain a safe, respectable and comforting workplace environment. Indeed, this involves taking active measures to prevent workplace bullying and harassment from occurring, and implementing investigative and disciplinary measures. To help, this article unpacks the legal definition of workplace bullying and how to prevent it from occurring. 

Workplace Bullying and Harassment

Workplace bullying and harassment is repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards an employee or group of employees that risk their health and safety. Conduct can be verbal, physical or psychological abuse. Likewise, it may be direct or indirect and includes behaviour that humiliates, intimidates or offends an employee at their workplace.

Notably, workplace bullying and harassment can occur in any workplace and to any employee. The following are examples of direct workplace bullying/harassment:

  • threatening to harm someone;
  • acts of violence;
  • offensive or abusive language;
  • public humiliation.

The following are examples of indirect workplace bullying/harassment:

  • deliberately excluding or isolating an employee from workplace activities;
  • spreading malicious rumours about another employee;
  • deliberately denying access to information or other resources;
  • withholding access to information or other resources required by an employee to perform effectively at work.

Generally, workplace bullying and harassment involves repeated behaviour. However, single or isolated incidents can quickly escalate to workplace bullying/harassment, creating a risk to workplace health and safety. Therefore, ensure your business has an operational Workplace Health and Safety Policy in place.

Workplace bullying may also be discrimination if it is based on factors like an employee’s:

  • race; 
  • sex; 
  • age; 
  • disability; 
  • religion; 
  • pregnancy status; or
  • sexual orientation, amongst other biased factors. 

Notably, there have been changes to the Fair Work Act that has incorporated sexual harassment as a form of workplace bullying. Therefore, as an employer, it is best practice to be aware of these changes. Indeed, understanding your employment obligations to your workers is paramount. 

Managing Employees vs Workplace Bullying

As an employer, your business has a legal right to direct employees about their performance and duties at work. Likewise, your management team can also monitor employee performance, identify performance problems and provide feedback. Notably, none of these actions amount to workplace bullying. 

Further, the following examples do not constitute workplace bullying/harassment:

  • setting performance goals and deadlines;
  • rostering and allocating work;
  • managing employee performance;
  • notifying an employee of unsatisfactory performance;
  • deciding not to promote a worker if a fair and transparent process has been followed;
  • informing an employee about inappropriate behaviour; and
  • restructuring or organisational changes.

How Can Workplace Bullying Occur?

Workplace bullying can occur through verbal or physical abuse through emails, texts, or social media. Furthermore, it can even occur outside the office. Ultimately, it can occur between co-workers, downwards from managers/supervisors to workers or upwards from workers to managers/supervisors. 

Unfortunately, bullying not only impacts the affected individual but can also disrupt the workplace environment. This can cause costs for the business regarding:

  • low morale;
  • high staff turnover;
  • damage to the reputation of the business; and
  • increased absenteeism.

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What Can I Do About It?

As an employer, you must aim to maintain a workplace free from bullying and harassment. Notably, workplace health and safety legislation requires that you must take steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all people who work in your business. In addition, workplace bullying is a psychological hazard. Accordingly, the risks associated with it need to be managed by employers like any other hazard at the workplace.

When a worker reports bullying to you or another management team member, it is important to act promptly and treat all matters seriously and confidentially. Indeed, it is important to be neutral, supportive, communicative and transparent through the process of investigation. Furthermore, ensure you also keep records of the report and the outcome.  

Additionally, employers must take active measures to prevent workplace bullying and harassment from occurring in the workplace. You must also take reasonable steps to stop it whenever it occurs. This means that you may need to develop systems to manage workplace bullying.

Importantly, it is best to deal with workplace bullying immediately. Of course, you want to ensure you prevent the conduct from becoming a risk to health and safety.

Prevention can look like regular meetings with workers to discuss incidences of bullying. It may also involve steps to improve workplace culture by:

  • seeking feedback when employees leave; 
  • seeking regular feedback from managerial roles; 
  • being vigilant of workplace relationships; and 
  • monitorings reports or unexplained changes. 

Key Takeaways

Workplace bullying is repeated unreasonable behaviour towards a worker that risks their health or safety. It can lead to severe physical, emotional or psychological harm that can impact your business. Therefore, it is essential to implement policies and procedures that can actively prevent incidences from occurring. 

For more information on creating a safe working environment, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is workplace bullying and harassment?

Workplace bullying and harassment is repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards an employee or group of employees that risk their health and safety.  Workplace bullying and harassment can be verbal, physical or psychological abuse.

How can I prevent workplace bullying?

Prevention can be as simple as conducting regular meetings with workers to discuss incidences of bullying. It may also involve steps like seeking feedback when employees leave or seeking regular feedback from managerial roles. Additionally, it may be helpful to implement a Workplace Health and Safety Policy in your business.

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