Prevent bullying in healthcare and social assistance

How to develop and implement strategies to protect workers from bullying.



How this helps my business

Workplace bullying is characterised by persistent and repeated negative behaviour directed at an employee that creates a risk to health and safety.

Going to work for most people helps them to connect with people, feel they belong in a community and builds self-esteem. Bullying undermines these positive outcomes.

Bullying in a workplace can cause employees to take more days off, get less done when they are at work, and often quit altogether. It can be expensive for the employer and create low morale across the whole team and organisation.

Unfortunately, bullying can happen in any workplace. It can also happen outside of work hours, via social media. Putting bullying prevention policies and procedures into practice is the first step to preventing and managing bullying in your workplace.

Key stats and facts


of nurses reported bullying or harassment in the previous 12 months.

Australian Nursing Midwifery Federation, 2014, Endemic unprofessional behaviour in health care


of staff in health agencies have experienced bullying.

Victorian Auditor-General's Office, 2016, Bullying and Harassment in the Health Sector

Step 1

Learn about this topic

Workplace bullying can happen in any workplace. Under certain conditions, anyone can be capable of bullying behaviour. It can have an impact on an individual's health and affect their ability to do their job. It can also contribute to loss of productivity, staff turnover, absenteeism, low morale and financial costs. Examples of bullying in your industry can include:

  • Verbal abuse or constant criticism and/or negativity by senior staff toward more junior staff
  • Constantly rostering a staff member on at the busiest times, or at weekends, despite requests to have a weekend off or changing rosters for that staff member at the last minute
  • Withholding information that is essential for someone to do their job
  • Repeated hurtful remarks or attacks, or making fun of a staff member's work, or him or her as a person (including their family, sexuality, gender identity, race or culture, education or economic background)
  • Repeated behaviours such as eye rolling, snide remarks or gossiping
  • Continually ostracising an individual.

WorkSafe Victoria, 2012, Workplace bullying- prevention and response

There are several videos that explain to employers and employees what bullying is and how it can be prevented and managed in the workplace, you can use them to start discussions in your workplace.:

The Department of Health and Human Services and WorkSafe Victoria have collaborated to create a bullying and harassment awareness campaign called Know Better, Be Better aimed at all healthcare workers and leaders in Victorian public health services.  This case study video is part of the campaign.

The two WorkSafe videos explain employee rights and employer responsibilities with regards workplace bullying.

In Episode 6 of (Mis)behave with Dave, comedian Dave O'Neill uses a light hearted approach to deal with bullying in the workplace, and shows how employers and managers should not behave.

Workplace bullying – Employee rights

Step 2

Commit to positive workplace culture

The Department of Health and Human Services has developed a comprehensive framework for promoting a positive workplace culture in health services.  The framework promotes a consistent approach to the prevention and management of inappropriate behaviour.

Discuss the framework with your leadership team and get commitment to implement it in your workplace.

You can also use the pledge resource suite to design a pledge, which can be used to promote organisational change and improvements in workplace culture. It can send a powerful message about what an organisation stands for and expects of all its people. The suite includes an action plan template to set out how your workplace will act on its pledge.

Step 3

Assess your workplace

Prevention of bullying requires an organisational focus. Even if bullying is not proven, staff talking about feeling bullied means there is a risk that people are not being treated respectfully.

Use the EML bullying checklist to help you identify risks for bullying in your workplace and make a plan to start reducing the risk.

Step 4

Consult with staff

A safe workplace is more easily achieved when managers and staff talk to each other about what problems might come up, and work together to fix them. Starting conversations about bullying prevention at work is the first step in identifying poor behaviour and setting boundaries to help people work together respectfully. Having discussions in a non-judgmental way helps you build trust and mutual respect within your team.

As well as the videos above, you can use the Know Better, Be Better campaign resources as conversation-starters.  These include posters, digital tiles, animations, Powerpoint presentation and email templates. These are designed for health services but might also be relevant for other types of workplaces providing care to clients.

There are many opportunities to talk with your staff about bullying prevention in your workplace, including:

  • during induction of new staff
  • in leadership forums
  • using your newsletters and communication lines
  • one-on-one discussions with your managers and employees
  • having appropriate workplace behaviours as an agenda item at your regular meetings. These may be production meetings, staff meetings or any way your organisation communicates
  • through your health and safety representatives
  • through your health and safety committees.

Step 5

Draft or review your policy

A workplace bullying prevention policy sets out how everyone is expected to act at your workplace.  It can be written in a positive way, such as outlining how everyone should be treated at work, or it can outline what people shouldn’t do. Workplace procedures should outline how bullying issues will be dealt with in your workplace.

Like all occupational health and safety (OHS) policies, your bullying prevention policy should be developed in consultation with staff and your OHS committee.

The Bullying Prevention policy may be a standalone document or could be incorporated into your general Occupational Health and Safety policy.

Everyone needs to know where to find your workplace bullying prevention policy and procedures.

Use the below template along with the checklist to make sure your policy covers the basics, and is written in plain English. Ask some of your staff to read your draft policy and provide feedback.

Policy checklist

  • A commitment to provide staff with a safe working environment
  • The standard of behaviour that all staff are expected to follow including definitions and examples
  • A statement that the policy includes communications through both personal and work mobile phones (SMS), email and social media
  • What can happen if the policy is not followed
  • How and where to report issues
  • Who the contact officers for bullying and harassment are
  • How to get information for employees whose first language is not English – use the WorkSafe resource to assist in communicating to staff who speak other languages
  • Where to get more information

Step 6

Consider a social media policy

Social media has many benefits for workplaces, but it can also be used for bullying and harassment. A social media policy will not only protect your workplace, it will protect your staff. Workplaces are encouraged to put a social media policy in place or include social media in their bullying policy, to ensure staff that use social media, either personally or as part of their job, know how to use it appropriately.

Use the following sample social media template as a guide or visit the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission website for further examples and information on employer responsibilities.

What should be in your social media policy?

  • A commitment to provide employees with a safe work environment
  • The standard of social media behaviour that all employees are expected to follow
  • A statement that the policy includes communications through both personal and work mobile phones (SMS), email and social media
  • What can happen if the policy is not followed
  • How and where to report issues
  • Where to get more information

Step 7

Share with staff

Once you have finalised your policy and procedures, it is important that you share these with your staff and provide opportunity for them to ask questions.

You can also print out the pocket guide below to share with your staff and display in your workplace. It gives your employees information about bullying and the contact details for places where you can get help, for both you as an employer and for your staff.

There are a number ways you can share these documents:

  • one-on-one discussions with your team leaders and staff
  • having appropriate workplace behaviours as an agenda item at your regular meetings.
  • through your health and safety representatives
  • through your health and safety committees
  • in your leadership meetings
  • internal social media platforms

Step 8

Review and keep improving

Bullying prevention strategies need to be regularly monitored, evaluated, reported on, and improved upon.  Set regular dates to review your bullying prevention policies and procedures.

Provide Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and annual refreshers on bullying prevention and respectful behaviour. Consistent and up to date training supports a culture of respect in your workplace.  Employers should train staff in the bullying prevention policy and procedure. Information on how staff can manage an issue should also be included.

Key topics to cover in training include:

  • the workplace policy and how to comply with it
  • the workplace procedure and how to report issues/concerns/allegations
  • how to deal with workplace bullying allegations
  • technology and workplace bullying.

WorkSafe Victoria, 2012, Workplace bullying - prevention and response

Ensure managers have the skills to complete formal and informal performance reviews. Consider using the guide below, which is a framework for best practice performance management for nurses and midwives working in Victorian health services.

More information

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