Workplace bullying is a risk wherever people work together. Take measures to eliminate or reduce the risks of workplace bullying and prevent its impact on the safety and health of workers.
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.
Senior management commitment to identify, prevent and respond to workplace bullying is one of the key factors for preventing unreasonable behaviour and managing psychological risks. Effective leaders model their organisation's values and standards for workplace behaviour. Effective leaders' behaviour can send a clear message to employees that the organisation is serious about preventing workplace bullying and contribute to a positive workplace culture where unreasonable behaviour is not tolerated.
Employers and managers can set their workplace culture. They can make employees aware of the workplace's expected standards of behaviour through training, role modelling and prompt intervention when undesired behaviours are apparent.
Employers and managers should also model the desired behaviours. What employers and managers say and do has a significant impact on workplace culture.
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
A workplace policy should include:
commitment to providing employees with a healthy and safe working environment
the standard of behaviour expected of all employees, including examples of what is and what is not workplace bullying
a statement of how the policy applies in connection with work and work-related events and activities
where relevant, a statement that the policy covers all communication, including text messages, email and social media
definitions or characterisations of workplace bullying
how and where employees can report allegations of workplace bullying
a commitment to treat reports of workplace bullying seriously and to respond impartially and confidentially
what can happen if the policy is not followed
how the employer will respond to allegations of workplace bullying that have been reported
how reports will be investigated
where to get more information
Promote the workplace policy
The workplace policy should be communicated and promoted to all employees. This can be done through notice boards, team meetings, the intranet and by regular discussion with team members. Training should reinforce the policy.
A workplace bullying policy should be:
developed in consultation with employees and HSRs, if there are any
easily accessible and communicated to all employees
included in the induction for new employees
discussed in team meetings
Employees will be more likely to report workplace bullying if they have confidence in the workplace procedure and know it will be used consistently when necessary.
It is important for those who experience or witness workplace bullying to know who they can talk to, that a report will be taken seriously and that confidentiality will be maintained. Effective response procedures should ensure that reports of workplace bullying are dealt with in a consistent and reasonable way. These procedures should be used each time a report of bullying is made. Procedures should be flexible to fit the different circumstances of each report, and be designed to suit the size and structure of the organisation.
Encouraging employees to report workplace bullying helps employers to:
You can encourage reporting by:
take action to address the issues as early as possible
assess whether workplace bullying prevention measures are working
provide prompt assistance and support to employees
ensuring the confidentiality of employee information is maintained at all times
making various options and support available for reporting such incidents, especially in a small business where resources may be limited or maintaining confidentiality difficult. Small businesses with limited resources may choose to engage external consultants to help with bullying issues. The WorkSafe Advisory Service can also help
consistent responses to issues
supervisors and managers acting appropriately on issues when they become aware of them
regularly providing information, quarterly, for example, to the health and safety committee on numbers of reports, how they were resolved and what actions were taken
regularly providing information to employees on numbers of reports made, how they were resolved and what actions were taken
A workplace can show it is committed to managing the risk of bullying by highlighting what it has done or will do to resolve workplace bullying. General information on workplace bullying reports and how these were handled can be provided to employees or to external parties, for example through public reports.
Information may include:
Being transparent about its management of the issue helps the organisation generate confidence that it is serious about preventing workplace bullying.
the number of reports received and the number of reports resolved
time taken to complete investigations
whether investigations were conducted internally or externally, and
the general nature of the outcomes
To help you have a consistent approach, WorkSafe Victoria recommends developing and putting in place a set procedure for responding to workplace bullying.
A workplace procedure should suit the size and structure of a business and be developed in consultation with employees and HSRs. Workplace procedures should outline how the workplace will deal with issues.
Workplace procedure should:
be developed in consultation with employees or HSRs, if there are any
be communicated to all employees and be easily accessible
ensure employees know how and where to report workplace bullying, including different avenues to make a report
describe the process for responding to complaints
provide employees and managers with the contact details of people and organisations able to advise and assist
be included in induction for new employees
have a review date to ensure the procedure remains current
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.
Employers must provide information and instruction on workplace bullying policies and procedures and should also provide appropriate training.
Topics to cover in training include:
Further training may be required for employees who have a role in the workplace procedure. For example, investigators, employer representatives, line managers and supervisors should receive training to help them deal with workplace bullying. Training could include:
Training should provide the skills employees need to perform their role in the procedure and how and when to directly intervene in a situation. Employers should ensure the person who is their representative in resolving OHS issues is also able to deal with workplace bullying.
the expected standards of behaviour applying to the workplace. This should include respectful behaviour towards others
identifying bullying and inappropriate behaviour
what employees should do if they witness bullying
the workplace policy and how to comply with the policy
the workplace procedure and how to report incidents of bullying
what to do if you experience workplace bullying
the process for responding to complaints of workplace bullying
technology and workplace bullying
communicating effectively and engaging employees in decision-making
managing difficult conversations and providing constructive feedback both formally and informally
effectively managing workloads and performance
diversity and tolerance
Managers and supervisors need the skills to be able to identify psychological hazards and to apply the right control measures.
Line managers and supervisors should know what to do if they receive a report of an issue or they become aware of a problem in their work group. Managers and supervisors should know how to recognise and act on workplace bullying and demonstrate positive behaviour. They should receive ongoing training on managing performance and providing feedback, effective communication, handling difficult conversations and conflict resolution.
Providing employees with information
Employees can receive information about workplace bullying in a number of ways, including:
talking directly with employees in team meetings, toolbox talks or speaking one-on-one with them at the beginning of the work day
handing out company newsletters or pamphlets
providing information sheets in payslips
displaying posters in the workplace
through email messages or intranet announcements
Monitoring health and safety and workplace conditions
All employers should carry out a regular check of the workplace in consultation with HSRs and employees to identify whether there are signs that bullying is happening or if there is an increased risk of it happening. Steps should then be taken to implement appropriate controls.
Checklists can help employers monitor their workplaces. The checklists on this page and the suggested control measures are not exhaustive. You will need to consider all factors that are relevant to your workplace.
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.
This information is from 'Workplace bullying: A guide for employers'. The complete guide is available in two formats.