March 11, 2024 • 3 min read

Speak Up! Act Now! Your Guide to Combating Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying can be difficult to define and address, we’ve put together a guide to help.

Written by: Stephen Zeng

Workplace bullying is when someone repeatedly behaves in an unreasonable way towards another worker or group, creating a risk to health and safety. Everyone should have a safe place to work, free from harassment or feeling unwelcome.

Identifying Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying can take many forms, including:

  • Aggressive behavior: Acting in a hostile manner towards others.
  • Teasing or practical jokes: Making fun of someone or playing harmful tricks.
  • Pressuring: Forcing someone to act against their will.
  • Exclusion: Leaving someone out of work-related activities on purpose.
  • Unreasonable work demands: Giving tasks that are too difficult or too many to complete in a given time.

These actions can harm the work environment and hurt the well-being of employees.

Distinguishing Bullying from Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

  • Sexual harassment involves unwelcome sexual behavior that could make someone feel offended, humiliated, or intimidated.
  • Discrimination happens when someone is treated unfairly for reasons like their sex, race, religion, or gender, which is different from bullying.

Steps to Take if You're Experiencing Workplace Bullying

  • Stay Informed: Familiarise yourself with your workplace’s anti-bullying policy and the procedure for lodging complaints. Understanding these guidelines is crucial for navigating the situation effectively.
  • Document Everything: Keep a detailed record of all incidents, including dates, times, witnesses, and any actions you’ve taken to address the bullying. This diary will be invaluable if you decide to make a formal complaint,
  • Address the Bully: If you feel safe doing so, confront the bully calmly and clearly. Let them know that their behavior is unacceptable. If you’re uncertain about how to handle this conversation, seek advice from a trusted colleague, manager, or an appointed contact person within your organisation.
  • Report the Issue: Inform a relevant authority within your workplace, such as your supervisor, a harassment contact officer, or a health and safety representative. Most workplaces have formal procedures for handling such complaints, which may involve warnings, mandatory counseling, mediation, or more severe actions like termination, depending on the circumstances.
  • Explore External Resources: If the situation remains unresolved after internal efforts, or if you feel unsafe discussing the issue within your workplace, seek external help and information. This might involve contacting professional advisory services or legal counsel, especially if the bullying is severe.

What’s Reasonable Management Action?

  • Reasonable management action includes necessary steps taken by managers, like evaluating performance, taking disciplinary action, or directing work.
  • It’s not bullying when these actions are done fairly and properly. But, if these actions are unreasonable, they might be considered bullying.
  • Management should set clear examples of respectful behavior and act decisively when dealing with complaints.

What Resources Can I Access?

  • Safe Work Australia –  Government organisation that provides guidelines and resources on how to identify, prevent, and manage workplace bullying. Their website offers comprehensive information and tools for both employers and employees. 
  • Fair Work Commission – The Fair Work Commission can handle complaints of workplace bullying and can issue orders to stop bullying. Their website includes information on how to apply for such orders and provides resources on understanding workplace rights and obligations.
  • The Australian Human Rights Commission – This commission deals with complaints of discrimination, harassment, and bullying based on a person’s sex, disability, race, or age. They offer advice and can guide individuals on how to resolve issues or make a formal complaint. 
  • Beyond Blue – This is a mental health organization that provides support for anxiety, depression, and suicide prevention. They have resources specifically aimed at mental health in the workplace.

*The details in this article were correct and current when it was written. However, changes in business practices, policies, and other pertinent areas may have occurred since then. Readers should confirm the current validity of the content on their own.

Stephen Zeng
Stephen is the director and the principal writer at AusRehab, leading workplace rehabilitation provider, with a focus on addressing and resolving workplace injuries.

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