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Work-related bullying

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated and 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 involve a range of behaviours over time.

Unreasonable behaviour means behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable, including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.

Examples of behaviour, whether intentional or unintentional, that may be workplace bullying if they are repeated, unreasonable and creates a risk to health and safety include but are not limited to:

  • abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments
  • unjustified criticism or complaints
  • deliberately excluding someone from workplace activities
  • withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
  • setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines
  • setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a person's skill level
  • denying access to information, supervision, consultation or resources to the detriment of the worker
  • spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
  • changing work arrangements such as rosters and leave to deliberately inconvenience a particular worker or workers.

Find more information about what constitutes workplace bullying in Section 1 of the Guide for Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying. Dealing with workplace bullying – a workers guide (PDF, 316 kB) may help workers determine if workplace bullying is occurring and how the matter may be resolved.

What is not workplace bullying?

  • a single incident of unreasonable behaviour, however it may be repeated or escalate and so should not be ignored
  • unreasonable behaviour that involves violence, for example physical assault or threat of physical assault
  • reasonable management action, in connection with a worker's employment, is not considered workplace bullying if it is carried out in a lawful and reasonable way, taking the particular circumstances into account
  • acts of unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment.
  • workplace conflict—differences of opinion and disagreements are generally not considered to be workplace bullying.

Advice and assistance on how to deal with discrimination or sexual harassment can be provided by:

Reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way

A person conducting a business or undertaking may take reasonable management action to effectively direct and control the way work is carried out. It is reasonable for managers and supervisors to allocate work and give feedback on a worker's performance. These actions are not considered to be workplace bullying if they are carried out in a lawful and reasonable way, taking the particular circumstances into account.

A manager exercising their legitimate authority at work may result in some discomfort for a worker. The question of whether management action is reasonable is determined by considering the actual management action rather than a worker's perception of it, and where management action involves a significant departure from established policies or procedures, whether such a departure is reasonable in the circumstances.

Examples of reasonable management action include but are not limited to:

  • setting realistic and achievable performance goals, standards and deadlines,
  • fair and appropriate rostering and allocation of working hours,
  • transferring a worker to another area or role for operational reasons,
  • deciding not to select a worker for promotion where a fair and transparent process is followed,
  • informing a worker about unsatisfactory work performance in an honest, fair and constructive way,
  • informing a worker about unreasonable behaviour in an objective and confidential way,
  • implementing organisational changes or restructuring, and
  • taking disciplinary action, including suspending or terminating employment where appropriate or justified in the circumstances.

Further information on what is reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way can be found in the Fair Work Commission's Anti-bullying Benchbook and in Safe Work Australia's Guide for Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying.

View WorkCover's webinar on work-related bullying: issues at common law and work-related bullying: legislative requirements for more information.

Last updated
16 October 2017

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