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Workplace bullying and harassment can be debilitating for victims, leading to health issues, including depression, anxiety and even suicide.

Everyone has a right not to be bullied or harassed at work, but many employees still don’t understand what bullying is, or what you can do about it.

The Law

You are protected under national anti-bullying laws, as well as different state and territory health and safety legislation.

What is bullying

Bullying can take the form of verbal, physical, psychological, or social abuse by an individual or group of people in the workplace.

The Fair Work Act says a worker is bullied if, while at work, an individual or a group repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards that worker, and that behaviour creates a risk to that worker’s health and safety.

Bullying does not include reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.

The key elements to remember are:

the behaviour needs to be unreasonable, and done repeatedly, and it must impact on the worker’s health and safety.

How is bullying different from discrimination?

Discrimination happens where there’s adverse action, such as firing or demoting someone because of a person’s attributes like their race, religion or sex.

Bullying happens when someone in the workplace repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards another person and causes a risk to that person’s health and safety.

Examples of bullying behaviour

  • intimidation and coercion
  • threats
  • humiliation
  • shouting
  • sarcasm
  • singling out or ostracism
  • innuendo
  • rumour-mongering
  • disrespect and mocking
  • discrimination
  • exclusion from work events
  • unreasonable work expectations, including too little or too much work, or work below or beyond a worker’s skill level

Bullying can take the form of threats, shouting, innuendo and ostracism.

Who is protected by bullying in the workplace?

All employees, along with outworkers, students gaining work experience, contractors and subcontractors and volunteers are protected from bullying under the law.

What can you do if you believe you are being bullied at work?

If you believe you are being bullied at work, the Fair Work Ombudsman has the following advice:

Firstly you should talk to:

  • a supervisor or manager
  • a workplace health and safety representative
  • the human resources department
  • a union

You can also contact the Fair Work Commission, which can make orders to stop the bullying.

You can also enlist the help of an employee advocacy firm such as Discrimination Claims which can act on your behalf in negotiations with your employer, and can also represent you in court, and can possibly even negotiate compensation in some cases.

A case study

A recent case of bullying involves NSW primary school teacher Helen Frances*, who says she attempted suicide after being bullied by her principal and isolated by her colleagues for more than a year.

Mrs Frances told the the culture at the school “became toxic” when the new principal arrived.

It began with negative things being said and circulated among staff, and escalated to the principal humiliating her in front of other teachers and students, once suggesting Mrs Frances should be made redundant when all staff were present.

“It’s a very sinister form of bullying where you start to isolate the person.  I’d go to the staffroom and sit next to someone just to say ‘hi’, and if the principal came in they would get up and move,” Mrs Frances told the

“I can’t even begin to explain what that does to one’s entire psyche.

“Initially I just started getting sick, getting colds, my immune system went into decline.”

The reports that Mrs Frances started having nightmares and suffering from anxiety that left her shaking physically when she was left alone with the principal.

“I eventually tried to commit suicide.  It left me with no other option, I felt like I was a burden and not any use to anybody.”

Mrs Frances eventually left the school and teaching, and subsequently won a case in the Workers Compensation Commission to have the school authority pay weekly benefits and cover medical costs.

Take care of your health, safety and well being

Bullying can affect people in different ways.  It is vitally important to look after your health and safety and well being.  

If you are feeling anxious or depressed, make sure that you talk to someone.

You can make an appointment to see your doctor, or you can contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 44 or Kids’ HelpLine on 1800 55 1800.

You can also contact Discrimination Claims on 1300 853 837 for a confidential chat about your options regarding your employment, and eligibility for compensation.

*name changed


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