Workplace bullying and harassment
Workplace bullying is when a person or group of people say or do things to you in the workplace that:
- are unreasonable
- are repeated
- create a risk to your health and safety at work.
It’s not workplace bullying if it’s:
- a single incident
- reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable way
- ordinary differences of opinion or disagreements within the workplace.
Australia has national anti-bullying laws that allow for workers who have been bullied to apply to the Fair Work Commission to stop the bullying.
If you’ve experienced workplace bullying , you may be able to make a complaint. You should get legal advice.
Sometimes bullying can be a criminal offence. If you’ve experienced violence, assault or stalking, you should report it to the police. In an emergency, call 000.
Examples of workplace bullying
Examples of workplace bullying include:
- aggressive or intimidating behaviour
- belittling or humiliating comments
- spreading malicious rumours
- teasing, practical jokes or ‘initiation ceremonies’
- exclusion from work-related events
- unreasonable work expectations, including too much or too little work or work below the worker’s skill level
- withholding information vital to your effective work performance
- displaying offensive material
- pressure to behave in an inappropriate manner.
You can be bullied by:
- your employer
- your co-worker
- a group of your co-workers
- a client or customer
- a member of the public.
If the bullying is based on discriminatory grounds such as your age, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, it may be covered by discrimination law.
National anti-bullying laws
Australia has national anti-bullying laws allowing workers who have been bullied at work to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying.
You’re covered by the national anti-bullying laws if you’re:
- an employee
- a contractor or subcontractor
- an employee of a contractor or subcontractor
- an employee of a labour hire company who has been assigned to work in a particular business or organisation
- an outworker
- an apprentice or trainee
- a student gaining work experience
- a volunteer (unless they work for an organisation entirely made up of volunteers with no employees).
and if you work for:
- a business or organisation conducted principally in a territory or Commonwealth place
- a business that is a constitutional corporation (eg foreign corporations employing people to work in its business in Australia, and trading or financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth)
- the Commonwealth (including its departments)
- a Commonwealth authority (eg the Australian Tax Office, Australia Post)
- a body corporate incorporated in a territory.
You’re not covered by the national anti-bullying laws if you work for:
- an organisation entirely made up of volunteers with no employees
- a sole trader or partnership
- some state government departments and non-corporate state public sector agencies
- some local governments
- corporations without significant trading or financial activities.
Members of the Defence Force are not covered by these laws.
If you’re not sure if you’re covered, you should get legal advice.
Resolving workplace bullying issues
Where it’s possible, and safe to do so, you should try to resolve the issues by:
- talking to the person who is bullying you
- raising the issue with your supervisor or manager, a health and safety representative or the human resources department
- making a bullying complaint outside of your workplace.
Most workplaces have an informal or formal process for reporting workplace bullying. You should look at your workplace’s bullying prevention policy to find out how to make a complaint.
If you’re experiencing workplace bullying or harassment, you may also want to seek professional support from Lifeline or beyondblue.
Making a complaint
If you can’t resolve your complaint through your workplace’s complaint process, you may be able to make a complaint to an external organisation. You should get legal advice.
If you’ve suffered an injury (physical or psychological) as a result of the bullying, you may be able to lodge a workers’ compensation claim or make a common law claim for damages for a personal injury. You should get legal advice from a private lawyer.
Fair Work Commission
If you’re covered by the national anti-bullying laws and there’s a risk the bullying will continue, you can apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying. Once an order has been made, there are substantial penalties for failing to comply with the orders. The Fair Work Commission can’t order financial compensation be paid to the worker.
Queensland Human Rights Commission or the Australian Human Rights Commission
If the bullying is covered by discrimination law, you can make a complaint to the relevant state or commonwealth authorities
Department of Education and Training
If you’re an apprentice or trainee, you can make a complaint to the Department of Education and Training (DET).
DET deals with complaints from apprentices about:
- workplace bullying (not sexual harassment)
- issues that occur in training situations (eg while you're doing a traineeship or apprenticeship in Queensland).
Contact Training Services at the Department of Education and Training to make a complaint.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland
WorkSafe Qld can investigate complaints that are:
- about workplace bullying (not sexual harassment)
- covered by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the Prevention of Workplace Harassment Code of Practice 2004.
Contact the Workplace Health and Safety Infoline for information about making a complaint.
Queensland Industrial Relations Commission
If you work in the public sector, State Government or local government, you may be able to lodge a notification of industrial dispute about workplace harassment with the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission.
The Commission can hear complaints and make decisions about workplace issues concerning public sector, state government and local government employees.
Australian Council of Trade Unions
If you’re a union member, you may be able to get help from your union with workplace issues, including workplace harassment and bullying.
Do I need legal advice?
You may need legal advice if you:
- have experienced workplace harassment or bullying
- think you’ve been unfairly treated or discriminated against in the workplace, including decisions about promotion and demotion
- have been disciplined.
How to get legal advice
We may give legal advice to employees on employment matters.
We can’t give legal advice:
- about enterprise bargaining or modern awards
- to employers or genuine independent contractors
- to state or local government employees about bullying.
If we can’t help you, we may be able to refer you to other services which may be able to help.
Caxton Legal Centre—Employment law advice service can give advice about unfair, unlawful and constructive dismissal, workplace bullying and discrimination matters. Contact them to find out if they can help.
LawRight Self Representation Service (Federal) gives legal advice and help to people involved in civil proceedings in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia or Federal Court for matters involving employment. The service may also help with drafting documents and correspondence relating to your legal matter. They do not provide representation.
LGBTI Legal Service gives free legal advice and information to LGBTI clients, including legal advice relating to employment.
Queensland Law Society can refer you to a private lawyer who can give advice to employees, employers and contractors about employment and industrial law, and can represent you.
Who else can help?
The following organisations may be able to help. They don’t give legal advice.
Commonwealth Fair Work Ombudsman gives information and advice about workplace laws, rights and obligations, and investigates complaints and suspected breaches of workplace laws, awards and agreements. They can help if you have been working under a sham contract preventing you from being paid entitlements.
Fair Work Commission is the national workplace relations tribunal and can give information about unfair dismissals, general protections, workplace bullying and harassment, and how to lodge an application.
Apprenticeships Info gives free advice, referrals and support to all Queenslanders about apprenticeships, traineeships and training options.
Office of Industrial Relations - Queensland has information about workplace relations including long service leave, child employment, private employment agents, trading hours, workers' accommodation, public holidays, and wages and conditions for public sector and local government employees.
Queensland Industrial Relations Commission is an independent tribunal established to conciliate and arbitrate industrial matters in Queensland. The QIRC provides information about awards and agreements.
WorkSafe Qld (Queensland Government) deals with complaints about workplace harassment, safety and fatigue. They also give information on making a complaint internally through your workplace or externally through their complaints process.
Department of Industry - Single Business Service gives information and referral services to independent contractors.
Australian Council of Trade Unions gives union members advice and help with employment matters.
Queensland Human Rights Commission gives information and helps to resolve complaints about discrimination in public life, including in the workplace.
Australian Human Rights Commission gives information on human rights and helps to resolves complaints about discrimination or breaches of human rights under federal laws.
Queensland Working Women's Service is a free, confidential advisory service to help Queensland women with work related matters. They can also help with advocacy and referrals about industrial relations matters, including employment rights, unfair dismissal, discrimination and harassment.
Financial counselling can help if you’re experiencing financial difficulty because of illness or job loss. They may be able to help arrange for payments to be reduced or postponed.
ReachOut.com has information for young people about workplace bullying including how to recognise bullying behaviour and how to get help.
Disclaimer: This content is for general purposes only and not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, please contact us or speak to a lawyer. View our full disclaimer.
Last updated 10 November 2022
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