Bullying and harassment is a risk to worker health and safety. As an employer, you have a duty to provide a safe workplace. This involves having effective strategies in place to prevent bullying and harassment from occurring in the workplace and responding to it quickly if it does arise.

Everyone at the workplace can help to prevent workplace bullying. Workers have a duty to take reasonable care that how they act doesn't adversely affect the health and safety of others.

What is bullying?

Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, which creates a risk to their health and safety.

Repeated behaviour is behaviour that is persistent and could involve a range of behaviours over time.

Unreasonable behaviour is behaviour that a reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would see as unreasonable. This includes behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.

Examples of unreasonable behaviour, whether intentional or unintentional, include:

  • Abusive, insulting, offensive language or comments
  • Belittling and intimidating comments
  • Aggressive or intimidating conduct
  • Victimisation
  • Practical jokes or initiations
  • Unjustified criticism
  • Deliberately excluding someone from work activities
  • Withholding information vital for work performance
  • Giving unreasonable deadlines or constantly changing deadlines
  • Setting tasks unreasonably below or above a person’s skill level
  • Spreading misinformation or rumours about a person
  • Changing rosters or leave arrangements to deliberately inconvenience workers.

Isolated incidents of unreasonable behaviour are not necessarily workplace bullying. However, the incident shouldn't be ignored as it may repeat or escalate. The following should not be ignored:

  • Reasonable management action delivered in an unreasonable way
  • Unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment
  • Workplace conflict.

For more information, read this Guide for preventing and responding to workplace bullying.

Planning and risk assessment

Identifying the potential for workplace bullying before it occurs is the best way to prevent it.

The following factors can increase the risk of bullying behaviour:

  • Job insecurity (casual workforce)
  • Client and customer demands
  • Job demands
  • Role conflict
  • Leadership styles
    • Lack of guidance provided to workers or responsibilities inappropriately delegated to subordinates
    • Leaving workers out of decision-making and leading in a harsh and strict manner
  • Shift work
  • Poor communication
  • Young workers, apprentices and trainees.

Control measures

Demonstrating commitment is the key to preventing unreasonable behaviour in your workplace. By developing a Workplace Bullying Policy, you are setting the standard of expected behaviour by providing clear guidance that bullying won't be tolerated in your business.

There are a number of other effective controls you can put in place to prevent and manage workplace bullying:

  • Train managers and supervisors to display positive leadership styles
  • Train workers to identify the signs of workplace bullying
  • Ensure workers understand what reasonable management actions are and how they're different from workplace bullying
  • Empower workers, especially young and inexperienced ones, to speak up if they're subjected to workplace bullying
  • Provide support to workers exposed to unreasonable behaviour
  • Continually monitor and review workplace bullying policies and procedures to ensure they remain effective.

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