What is workplace bullying?

What is bullying at work?

Workplace bullying is any ongoing harmful or threatening behaviour by a person or group of people in your workplace that creates a risk to your health and safety. It can happen in any kind of workplace, and the person or group doesn’t need to be a manager or someone in a position of power over you. Bullying and harassment in the workplace can come from co-workers just as much as it can come from your boss.

Some types of bullying at work include:

  • insulting, yelling, swearing at you

  • hurtful comments making fun of you or your work

  • spreading rumours, gossip or innuendo about you

  • excluding you from workplace activities or conversations

  • playing mind games or ‘ganging up’

  • giving you pointless or demeaning tasks that don’t help you do your job

  • making impossible demands; setting you up to fail

  • using your roster to deliberately make things difficult for you

  • withholding important info

  • physical violence, from pushing and tripping to outright attacks

  • threatening phone calls or texts, including threatening you with workplace equipment like knives or drills

  • blackmailing you

  • initiation or ‘hazing’ rituals where you have to do something unacceptable or humiliating or illegal.

What isn't workplace bullying?

Even though some things may seem unfair, they might not be considered bullying in the workplace. Your boss can fire, transfer, demote or discipline you, as long as they have a good reason. Sometimes it’s perfectly legitimate for your manager to criticise your performance, if you haven’t been doing well or your work is up for review. It’s their job to manage the quality of your work.

Bullying and the law

If you are under 18, bullying might also be child abuse. If the bullying is violent, it might also be a crime and you can report it to the police. This includes sexual or indecent assault, physical assaults, threatening you or damaging your property.

If the bullying caused you mental harm and you had to take time off, or seek help regarding your health, you may be able to claim worker’s compensation. If you feel like this has happened to you, tell your employer as soon as possible and make sure they tell their insurer.

Workplace discrimination is when someone treats you differently (not just meanly) at work based on a personal characteristic, such as being pregnant or being gay. For example, it would be discrimination if you were being made fun of just because you have a disability, or because you’re female. Learn more about discrimination and what you can do about it here.

Who's responsible for stopping bullying?

At work, employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace, which means one that's free of bullying. This means that by law if you report bullying behaviour, your employer has to go through a proper process for handling your complaint.

If you see someone in the workplace being bullied, you also have the opportunity to help. You could reach out to the person being bullied to support them, and report the behaviour they’re experiencing if necessary.

If you’re dealing with sexual harassment or bullying in the workplace, Australia’s Fair Work Ombusdman can help you understand your rights and protections at work and how to get help. The Australian Human Rights Commission also has more information on workplace bullying such as how bullying can affect your work, how to get help and other useful resources. 

What can I do now?