All employers must be vigilant to ensure there is no bullying in the workplace. The impact of such behaviour can be devastating and long lasting. As Maya Angelou said: “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

What is bullying?

There is no single legal definition of what workplace bullying is.

The Australian Human Rights Commission defines workplace bullying as “verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by your employer (or manager) another person or group of people at work”.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) defines bullying at work as occurring when a person or group of people repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work, and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety. The FWC also states that bullying does not include reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.

There is some bullying behaviour which will comprise criminal offences, such as assault, sexual assault and stalking. Any such behaviour should be reported to police without delay.

Regardless of which definition is considered – it is clear that bullying can include the making of hurtful remarks or attacks, making fun of the work you are doing or you as a person, sexual harassment, excluding you or stopping you from working with certain people or in parts of the workplace, intimidation or any similar type of behaviour. If you have spoken to someone who has been the subject of bullying, and I have dealt with many employees who have complained of such behaviour in the workplace, the result can be psychologically significant.

Impact of bullying

When bullying occurs, it can result in serious psychological injury. Where bullying in the workplace causes an injury, it may give rise to a workers compensation entitlement. Workers compensation applies to injuries which are defined as incorporating psychological injuries and can include conditions such as depression and anxiety. An injured worker must be able to establish that the psychological injury was significantly contributed to by the workplace factors, such as the behaviour of another employee. It is also clear, however, that not all workplace practices, even if they seem “unfair” will comprise bullying. An employer is clearly entitled to transfer, demote, discipline, counsel, retrench or in some cases terminate an employee, as long as they act in a reasonable way and in accordance with the law. Even if those types of behaviour cause a psychological injury, it may not be the subject of workers compensation if it is characterised as “reasonable administrative action”.

Everyone in the workplace should be alert to any form of bullying behaviour. It is not acceptable to turn one’s back and it must be dealt with and reported to management, who have a duty of care to ensure a safe workplace As Michelle Obama wrote: “When someone is cruel and acts like a bully, you do not stoop to their level. Our motto is when they go low, you go high”. All of us should take that on board.

How can we help?

If you would like help to navigate any situations that may sound familiar from the above or any other Personal Injury questions, contact our team on 02 6285 8000 or by email.