Workplace bullying is repeated, 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 refer to a range of behaviours over time.

Unreasonable behaviour means behaviour that a reasonable person, having regard for the circumstances, would see as victimising, humiliating, undermining or threatening.

Direct or indirect bullying

Bullying can occur face to face, over the phone, via email, instant messaging or using mobile phone technologies including text messaging.

Bullying can involve many different forms of unreasonable behaviour, which can be obvious (direct) or subtle (indirect).

Examples of direct bullying include:

  • behaviour or language that frightens, humiliates, belittles or degrades, including criticism that is delivered with yelling or screaming
  • inappropriate comments about a person’s appearance, lifestyle or their family
  • teasing or regularly making someone the brunt of pranks or practical jokes
  • interfering with a person’s personal property or work equipment
  • spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
  • abusive, insulting or offensive language
  • harmful or offensive initiation practices
  • displaying offensive material.

Examples of indirect bullying include:

  • deliberately changing work arrangements, such as rosters and leave, to inconvenience a particular worker or workers
  • unfair treatment in relation to accessing workplace entitlements such as leave or training
  • deliberately excluding, isolating or marginalising a person from normal work activities
  • setting timelines that are difficult to achieve or constantly changing deadlines
  • unreasonably overloading a person with work or not providing enough work
  • setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a person’s skill level
  • deliberately denying access to information, consultation or resources
  • withholding information that is vital for effective work performance.

Intentional or unintentional bullying

Bullying can be intentional, where the actions are intended to humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress, whether or not the behaviour did have that effect.

Bullying can also be unintentional, where the actions, which although not intended to humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress, cause and should reasonably have been expected to cause that effect.

Sometimes people do not realise that their behaviour can be harmful to others. In some situations, behaviours may unintentionally cause distress and be perceived as bullying.

Bullying can be directed at a single worker or a group of workers and be carried out by one or more workers. Bullying can be:

  • downwards from managers to workers. For example, a manager or supervisor in a position of power may have a management style that seems to be strict or disciplinary when in fact it is bullying.
  • sideways between workers or co-workers. For example, a co-worker seeking to enhance their position or sense of power in the workplace.
  • upwards from workers to supervisors or managers. For example, workers may bully their manager or supervisor to try and drive them from the workplace.

Impact of workplace bullying

Bullying can be harmful for the workers who experience it and those who witness it. Each individual will react differently to bullying and in response to different situations. Reactions may include any combination of the following:

  • physical illness, such as muscular tension, headaches and digestive problems
  • deteriorating relationships with colleagues, family and friends
  • distress, anxiety, panic attacks or sleep disturbance
  • loss of self esteem and feelings of isolation
  • depression and risk of suicide
  • reduced work performance.

Those who witness bullying may experience guilt and fear because they cannot help or support the affected person in case they too are bullied.

Witnesses may feel angry, unhappy or stressed with the workplace and may become unmotivated to work.

Bullying can also damage organisations. It can lead to:

  • disruption to work when complex complaints are being investigated
  • high staff turnover and associated recruitment and training costs
  • costly workers’ compensation claims or legal action
  • low morale and motivation
  • increased absenteeism
  • lost productivity.

The draft code of practice Preventing and responding to workplace bullying provides more information.

Use the Bullying in the workplace: Complaint form to advise WorkCover of any bullying issues at your workplace.

Call 13 10 50 for more information workplace bullying.