5 steps to deal with workplace bullying

Everyone has the right to work in a safe, happy environment. Sure, sometimes work can be a pain, but you should never feel threatened, humiliated or victimised at your job. If you do, this could be bullying and it’s not okay. If you're unsure on how to deal with bullies at work, there are actions you can take to stop it.

A person in a high-visibility shirt listening to another person.

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is when someone is repeatedly treated badly by someone they work with. It can be anything from physical threats to teasing or being left out. If someone else’s actions are threatening your health or safety at work, then it’s bullying.

Dealing with bullying in the workplace

If you feel like you’re being bullied, there are some steps that you can take.

1. Keep a private record

It can be hard to remember exactly when and why you felt bullied. But those deets are super-important if you want to report bullying. Keep a personal record to help you remember the specifics and to show that you’ve been treated badly more than once.

Make a note of:

  • the date and time

  • who is treating you badly

  • exactly what they’re doing or saying

  • where it happens

  • who else was there – it’s helpful if you have a co-worker who can back you up

  • how it makes you feel.

2. Check your workplace bullying policy

Check whether your work has a bullying or harassment policy. You might have been given a copy of this when you first started. It’ll give you an idea of who to talk to, what processes you should follow, and what the consequences will be for the person who is bullying you.

3. Ask for the bullying behaviour to stop

It’s a big step to accuse a co-worker of bullying behaviour, so it’s totally understandable to feel nervous about telling someone what’s been happening. Try to remember that it’s your work’s responsibility to make sure everyone feels safe and happy at work.

Try talking to the person who is displaying the bullying behaviour, and explaining that this is unfair or offensive. If you feel unsafe talking to this person, you could ask someone else to be in the meeting with you e.g. a colleague you trust.

4. Take it to your manager or HR

If you’re not comfortable talking to the person directly, you can have a chat to your manager or supervisor about the next steps.

If your manager is the person who is bullying you, or you don’t feel safe talking to your manager directly, you can take your concerns to someone more senior than them, or straight to human resources (HR).

Use your notes as a reference and clearly outline what’s been going on and how it’s affecting you. A lot of the time, HR will try to sort things out through mediation. But the person who's bullying you could be given a written warning or even be terminated.

If talking to your manager or HR isn’t possible, or this doesn’t stop the bullying behaviour happening to you, it might be time to take the issue even further.

5. Bring in the big guns

You’ve tried everything, but the bullying still won’t let up? It’s probably time to report the abuse to someone outside of your work.

  • Make things official by submitting an anti-bullying form through the Fair Work Commission. They can also give you information and their anti-bullying process and help you submit the form if you need support.

  • If you decide to lodge an anti-bullying application, the Fair Work Commission will investigate so that they understand what is going on. Depending on what they find they'll deal with the application through mediation, conference or hearing.

  • The bullying could be discriminatory if it’s based on personal characteristics, e.g. because you have a specific sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race or disability. Read more about what discrimination is here, and what you can do about it.

  • If you’ve been threatened, physically or sexually assaulted, you can report this to the police.

  • If you’re a union member, you can ask your union to give you a hand. They can give you heaps of advice about dealing with bullies at work and might even be able to act on your behalf.

  • If you are a whistleblower and are being bullied at work as a result, you are protected by law. Read more about your rights and protections as a whistleblower here.

What can I do now?

  • Create a Word document or grab a notebook and start a personal record of the bullying.

  • Ask your boss about your workplace’s bullying policy.

  • Visit SafeWork Australia to find out more about your rights at work.