What is bullying?
"Bullying" in the workplace means treatment of a person, or a group, that:
- is unfair
- is repeated or ongoing
- makes people feel embarrassed, victimised, humiliated, threatened or undermined.
The bully can be anyone within the workplace including a manager, a supervisor or a co-worker.
Bullying behaviour can be:
- physical or verbal abuse
- constant put-downs
- spreading gossip
- excluding people
- unreasonably criticising a person's work
- assigning too much, or inappropriate work
- withholding information to undermine work performance.
Giving feedback and constructive criticism, raising concerns about work performance, disciplining or dismissing an worker, are not bullying if they are done in a reasonable way.
What to do about bullying
If you think you are being bullied at work, keep a record of what is happening and if possible, talk to your manager or supervisor, or a Human Resources officer, union representative or a workplace health and safety contact person. If you can't do this, or if the problem isn't solved in the workplace, contact SafeWork SA for advice.
Workers (including employees, contractors, apprentices or volunteers) may also apply to the Commonwealth Fair Work Commission for an order to stop workplace bullying. Contact the Fair Work Commission to find out more.
If the bullying involves physical abuse or threats, criminal laws may apply.
If the bullying or your complaints result in your dismissal, you may be able to make an unfair dismissal claim. If you leave your job as a result of bullying, you may also be able to claim unfair dismissal. Unfair dismissal claims generally must be made within 21 days. See more information at the Fair Work Commission's website at www.fwc.gov.au.
A workplace free from bullying reduces stress and staff turnover, increases staff morale and productivity, and saves you time and money.
The Work Health and Safety Act 2012, requires employers to provide a safe workplace, take care of your staff's physical and psychological wellbeing and take steps to recognise, assess and control hazards, including bullying behaviour. The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA) also requires employers to prevent bullying related to age, caring responsibilities, disability, marital or domestic partnership status, pregnancy, race, religious appearance or dress, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, spouse or partner’s identity and whistleblowing. Victims of workplace bullying may be able to claim lost wages and medical expenses under the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1986 (SA).
To recognise if bullying is happening in your business, look for signs like sudden unexplained changes in rates of absenteeism, sick leave, staff turnover, grievances, work-related injuries or customer complaints.
Check for any deterioration in workplace relations between staff, clients or managers.
Here are some recommended reasonable steps to reduce the risk of bullying:
- Develop and promote a written policy which rules out bullying in the workplace.
- Inform all your staff of what you expect of them.
- Make sure managers and supervisors know how to promote a safe and fair workplace.
- Provide awareness training for managers and staff.
- Know how to handle inappropriate behaviours before they escalate.
- Have a complaint handling procedure for dealing with problems if they arise.
- Encourage staff to come forward with problems or complaints.
- Treat complaints seriously, quickly and confidentially.
- Monitor the workplace culture.
- Survey staff on workplace bullying or discuss it at staff meetings.
Your staff can attend training for staff and managers at the Equal Opportunity Commission, or we can tailor a program to your workplace. For more information, see our training page.