Workplace bullying definition
Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed at an employee or group of employees that creates a risk to health and safety.
As an employer, you have a duty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) to provide and maintain for your employees, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This duty includes providing and maintaining systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.
Because there can be a risk of workplace bullying wherever people work together, you, as an employer, should put in place all of the measures outlined in this section to control the risk. There is limited evidence to show interventions after bullying has occurred are effective. Prevention is the key to creating a safe working environment.
When fully put into effect, the measures on this page can help you eliminate or reduce the risk of workplace bullying at your workplace. You must involve employees in the consultation process, as well as their health and safety representatives (HSRs), if there are any.
Workplace culture can help prevent bullying
Culture is a significant factor in preventing workplace bullying. Culture sets the standards and behaviours in a workplace. Everyone in the workplace contributes to workplace culture, however management has a greater influence and responsibility for establishing a positive culture at their workplace.
- Setting values and standards
Employers have a responsibility under the OHS Act to maintain a workplace that is safe and without risks to psychological and physical health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable. You should consider setting values and standards of behaviour that provide a safe workplace for all employees. Your values and standards clearly specify which behaviours are allowed and which are not allowed.
Cultures that encourage and promote respectful behaviour and respectful communication are more likely to result in workplaces that are healthy and safe and free from risks to health.
On the other hand, cultures that tolerate or reward bullying behaviours are more likely to fail to meet the requirements of the OHS Act in respect to a safe workplace.
- Effective leaders
- Modelling behaviour
Workplace policies and procedures to prevent bullying
Employers, in consultation with employees and HSRs, should develop and put in place a workplace policy and procedure for workplace bullying. A workplace policy and procedure can ensure a consistent approach to prevent and respond to workplace bullying.
A workplace policy should set the standards of behaviour at a workplace and makes a clear statement that bullying behaviour is not tolerated.
Workplace procedures set out how to report workplace bullying and how the workplace will respond to allegations of bullying.
- A workplace bullying policy
The policy should take a guiding approach, outlining how everyone should behave and be treated at work, and a preventive approach, which tells people what they should not do.
The policy can be a stand-alone policy, part of a broader occupational health and safety (OHS) policy, a code of conduct or anti-discrimination policy, for example, as long as the policy refers to OHS duties.
- What should be in a workplace policy
- Promote the workplace policy
- Encourage reporting
- Workplace procedure
Information, instruction, training and supervision to prevent the risk of workplace bullying
As an employer you have responsibilities under the OHS Act to provide information, instruction, training and supervision to employees, as is necessary, to enable them to work in a way that is safe and without risks to health. This responsibility includes measures to prevent and respond to workplace bullying. Your responsibility includes making sure employees who supervise others have appropriate skills. Where necessary, you should provide supervisors with appropriate training before they start their supervisory duties so they have the skills to help prevent and respond to workplace bullying.
Employers should ensure information about workplace bullying, including relevant policies and procedures, is part of new employee inductions. Inductions should cover all employees at the worksite, for example, permanent employees, casuals, part-timers, shift workers, contractors, volunteers, labour hire workers and regular visitors such as sales people and clients.
- Providing employees with information
- Monitoring health and safety and workplace conditions
Checklists to help monitor your workplace
- Has there been recent significant organisational change or is change pending?
- Has a takeover occurred or is it pending?
- Has there been a major internal restructure or is it pending?
- Has technological change occurred or is it pending?
- Has there been a change in management or is it pending?
- Are there any other changes that might lead to high job instability and uncertainty about ongoing employment?
If any of these points apply, consider implementing risk control measures, such as:
- consult with employees about proposed changes and provide them with an opportunity to influence proposals
- provide employees with information to help them understand the proposed or actual changes, and the impact of the changes
- consult with employees about any support or retraining needed as a result of the changes
- seek and act on feedback during change process
- review and evaluate change processes
Leadership styles that may increase risk
- Does the workplace have authoritarian management styles?
- Does the workplace have laissez-faire hands-off management styles?
- Do managers and supervisors lack appropriate leadership training?
- Do managers and supervisors have poor interpersonal skills?
If any of these points apply, consider risk control measures such as:
- provide managers and supervisors with leadership training
- provide managers and supervisors with communication skills training
- use mentoring and coaching to improve leaders' interpersonal skills
- train managers and supervisors to adopt participative management styles as part of a culture that emphasises open communication, support and mutual respect
- Are there staff shortages?
- Is the work rate intense?
- Is there uncertainty about job requirements and role definition?
- Is there uncertainty about the way that work should be done?
- Are there unreasonable performance measures or timeframes?
If any of these points apply, consider risk control measures, such as:
- consult employees on possible job redesign
- consult employees about improving work patterns, including increasing their control over the pace of work and rest breaks
- assess whether demands on employees are achievable within the agreed hours of work
- provide clear job descriptions that outline roles and responsibilities
- Are there any vulnerable workers or groups in the workplace?
- Are there employees in uncertain employment, such as casuals, contractors and labour hire workers?
- Are there reports of damage to belongings or equipment?
- Are there young workers, such as apprentices and trainees?
- Are any employees reporting psychological issues or showing a negative impact on their health and safety?
If any of these points apply, consider risk control measures, such as:
- at induction, provide information to all employees, including casual and labour hire workers, about workplace policies and procedures on bullying prevention
- promote the principles of dignity and respect, and take action to combat discrimination
- introduce a buddy system which matches appropriate experienced employees with young and new workers for set periods
- provide cultural awareness training to avoid conflicts related to employees' diversity and to ensure your employees understand the benefits of a multicultural workforce
Induction, training and supervision
A checklist can help employers ensure they have taken steps in their induction, training and supervision procedures to eliminate or minimise the risk of workplace bullying. Your checklist could be similar to the following example:
Induction, training and supervision checklist
- All new employees receive induction on workplace bullying policy.
- Supervisors and line managers have been trained in how to respond to reports.
- Supervisors and managers monitor their workgroups for signs of workplace bullying.
- Supervisors are trained in managing employees' performance.
- Supervisors are trained in providing constructive feedback.
- Managers and supervisors, being in a management and leadership role within the organisation, should demonstrate the standards outlined with the organisation's policy and procedures.
Monitoring and reviewing bullying prevention measures
Employers can monitor bullying prevention measures through regular scheduled discussion at management meetings, board meetings, staff meetings, and health and safety committee meetings. The aim of monitoring is to check prevention measures continue to work and to put new measures in place, if needed.
It is not enough for an employer to establish a safe system of work. You must also maintain the system and review the workplace policy and procedures regularly, for example every 12 months.
Employers have an obligation to involve employees and HSRs in decisions about measures to control health and safety risks in the workplace. Although a review can occur at any time, a planned and scheduled approach can help employers educate and engage their employees. You should share review outcomes, suggested improvements and recommendations with health and safety committees (HSCs), HSRs, employees, senior leadership and the board of management.
Bullying prevention measures checklist
A checklist can help employers monitor and review bullying prevention measures. Your checklist could be similar to the following example:
Monitoring and review checklist
- Clear standards of behaviour are set, communicated and enforced.
- All employees, including supervisors and managers, know the standards of behaviour and follow them.
- New employees are inducted.
- Training is provided.
- Procedures for dealing with workplace bullying are in place.
- Procedures allow for early intervention and formal investigation.
- Supervisors know what to do if workplace bullying is reported and know how to act on bullying behaviour.