Bullying in the workplace

What is workplace bullying

What is workplace bullying

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

Differences of opinion, conflicts and personality clashes can happen in the workplace and do not amount to bullying. However, if the behaviour goes beyond a one-off disagreement, if it increases in intensity and becomes offensive or harmful to someone, it becomes bullying.

Bullying can be psychological violence and/or physical violence, and can include:

  • Persistent and repeatedly aggressive behaviour
  • Physical abuse
  • Repeated verbal abuse, including yelling, screaming, personal comments, offensive language, sarcasm
  • Vindictive, offensive, cruel or malicious behaviour
  • Unreasonable removal of status and authority
  • Repeatedly having impossible deadlines, workload or pressure
  • Being given meaningless tasks
  • Persistent nit-picking and unjustified criticism
  • Constantly being 'singled out' or targeted for practical jokes or gossip
  • Deliberately being ostracised, isolated or ignored.

What the law says

What the Law says

The Work Health and Safety Act 2012 establishes general duties which are expected of persons at Tasmanian workplaces. The Act does not specifically refer to bullying but the issue is covered under the general duty of care provisions within the Act.

Persons conducting a business or undertaking have a general duty of care under the Act to ensure that workers while at work are safe from injury and free from risks to their health. This means they must not bully their workers (or other persons at their workplace). They must also take reasonable steps to ensure that bullying doesn't occur in workplaces under their control. They can do this through training their workers in appropriate workplace behaviour and also establishing policies and procedures for dealing with complaints.

Workers also have a duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of other persons in the workplace. This means they cannot bully co-workers or other persons at the workplace.

About discrimination

About discrimination

In some cases, offensive behaviour in the workplace will be dealt with under the Anti-Discrimination Act.

You may make a complaint to the Office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner if you experience offensive conduct that offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person on the basis of any of these attributes:

  • age
  • breastfeeding
  • disability
  • family responsibilities
  • gender
  • gender identity
  • intersex
  • lawful sexual activity
  • marital status
  • parental status
  • pregnancy
  • race
  • relationship status
  • sexual orientation

The Office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner also deals with:

  • unlawful discrimination on the basis of one (or more) of the 22 attributes written in the Anti-Discrimination Act
  • sexual harassment
  • victimisation (when someone treats you badly because you complain about discrimination or help someone who's a victim of discrimination)
  • inciting hatred by a public act, on the grounds of race, disability, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, religious belief/affiliation/religious activity
  • publishing, displaying or advertising material that promotes, expresses or depicts discrimination or prohibited conduct
  • helping or encouraging others to violate the Anti-Discrimination Act

Office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner

Involving the police

Involving the police

Behaviour such as threats to harm someone, actual violence and damage to property can be criminal matters and should be referred to the police for investigation.

Bullying complaints

Bullying complaints

It is important that we understand whether a person making a complaint has first raised the matter within their workplace and they have not achieved a satisfactory resolution of their complaint. In organisations with formal grievance resolution procedures, we will normally not accept a complaint for investigation unless these procedures have been followed.

In organisations without formal grievance procedures, it is still important that you attempt to resolve your complaint with management.

We recognise that sometimes it won't be possible for you to have first raised the issue. For example, the person doing the bullying may be your supervisor and you feel you are unable to raise your concerns with them. In such cases, we will still assess the complaint. However, it is important that we first understand whether you have tried to resolve it using internal processes and if not why not.

Time limit

There is no time limit to make complaint. However, an action for breach of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 must begin within two years from when the offence first comes to the notice of the regulator.

Acceptance of complaint

You will be telephoned to discuss your complaint, then receive written notification as to whether your complaint has been accepted for further investigation.

Complaint against you

You will only be notified of a complaint if a decision is made to accept the complaint for investigation. You will then receive a copy of all documents in accordance with the process and asked to respond by a specified date.

Making a complaint to WorkSafe

There is a complaint form which must be used and is available from WorkSafe by telephoning 1300 366 322 (Inside Tasmania).

Investigating bullying

Investigating bullying

What WorkSafe Tasmania can do

If you believe you have been bullied at work but the conduct doesn't fall within the jurisdiction of the police or the Office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner then it may be accepted for investigation by WorkSafe Tasmania.

Our role is to investigate whether there has been a breach of a duty of care responsibility by your employer or a fellow worker under the Work Heath and Safety Act 2012.

If we find that a breach has occurred we must then determine the appropriate enforcement response. The most common response is to direct the development of policies, procedures and training. In an extreme case, the matter may be referred to the Director of Public Prosecution for consideration of prosecution.

We have no role in mediating workplace disputes nor can we award damages to persons who have been bullied.

If you have been dismissed

We may still investigate your complaint but we have no powers to order your re-employment or award you compensation. The Fair Work Ombudsman deals with unlawful or unfair dismissal matters (other than for state government employees) and can be contacted on 13 13 94.

After complaint has been lodged

After complaint has been lodged

We must firstly decide whether there is sufficient substance in the complaint for it to be accepted for further investigation. Our primary consideration is to determine whether there appears to have been a breach of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012.

The steps WorkSafe follow are:

  1. Telephone the complainant to acknowledge receipt of the complaint and if necessary, clarify and issues.
  2. Assess whether to accept the complaint for formal investigation. The key question is whether the matters described in the complaint appear to constitue workplace bullying
  3. Advise the complainant of the decision
  4. If the complaint is accepted for further investigation it will be allocated to an inspector
  5. The inspector will refer copies of all documents supplied by the complainant to the employer or other person against whom the complaint has been lodged and seek their response. The inspector may decide not to provide all documents associated with the complaint for reasons such as privacy protection or if they are not relevant to the matter
  6. If there is information you don't wish to have disclosed to the respondent then this information should be identified in your complaint
  7. The inspector will clarify any issues in the response and refer the matter to the complainant for comment
  8. The inspector will then determine whether to proceed to formal interviews of relevant persons or whether to close the investigation.