Workplace bullying

Anyone can be subjected to bullying in the workplace, regardless of their position, salary or seniority. At Maurice Blackburn our expert employment lawyers can help you quickly and discretely put a stop to bullying and protect your rights as an employee. If you are being bullied at work or have witnessed bullying in the workplace, we can help you.

Maurice Blackburn’s employment law division, headed by high-profile legal expert Josh Bornstein, is recognised nationally as Australia’s leading employment law practice. Our employment attorneys are able to negotiate directly and discreetly on behalf of employees, both in employer meetings and before Fair Work Australia.

Call us today to talk to one of our employment law experts.

Are you being bullied at work?

Bullying occurs when an individual or group repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards an employee , and that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety. If this is happening to you, we can provide legal advice and assistance to stop the bullying, and protect your health, your ongoing employment rights and professional reputation.

Maurice Blackburn can effectively and discreetly put a stop to bullying behaviours. Talk to us to find out what we can do to help you.

National anti-bullying legislation

In recent years Maurice Blackburn has campaigned for the introduction of a national anti-bullying law. We are delighted that new federal anti-bullying laws came into effect on 1 January 2014. These laws are designed to stop workplace bullying promptly. However, the laws do not entitle bullying victims to monetary compensation or reinstatement.

Fighting against bullying in the workplace

What the national anti-bullying laws mean for you.

  • Is your employment covered by the Federal anti-bullying laws?
  • Are you experiencing repeated and unreasonable behaviour in connection with your work?
  • Is the behaviour creating a risk to your physical or mental health or safety?
  • Is the behaviour likely to continue unless action is taken to stop the behaviour?

If you answered yes to the above questions then you should consider seeking advice in relation to your legal options as soon as possible. We have a highly successful record in employment and bullying litigation and can assist you today.

Contact us to find out how we can help.

Successful cases

First interim order in Fair Work Commission anti-bullying jurisdiction

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers has successfully obtained the first interim order in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) anti-bullying jurisdiction.

The interim order stopped an employer from:

  • terminating the employee, pending a full hearing
  • taking any further steps to finalise an investigation into the employee
  • imposing any disciplinary sanction in connection with the investigation on the employee.

The employee made a complaint to her employer about bullying she was being subjected to by a colleague. Allegations of misconduct were subsequently raised against the complainant employee, and the employer instigated an investigation into her conduct.

We applied for an interim order preventing the employer from continuing with this course of action until the employee’s anti-bullying application had been heard and determined.

On 4 April 2017, Commissioner Hampton issued the interim order. The case was run by Kamal Farouque and Bridie Murphy.

Impact of the Decision

The decision is a ground breaking outcome. It shows that, in an appropriate case, the FWC can move quickly and on an interim basis to restrain conduct which is alleged to constitute bullying.

The decision has been described by one employer law firm as ‘opening Pandora’s Box for employers’ and another as providing opportunity for ‘employees (and their representatives) to hijack disciplinary and performance management processes’.

We disagree. 

The decision is consistent with the very purpose of the FWC anti-bullying jurisdiction.  The jurisdiction is intended to protect employees from bullying at work and ensure that allegations of bullying are dealt with quickly and effectively.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What is bullying?

A worker is bullied at work if an individual or a group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards the worker or a group of workers of which the worker is a member and that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety. It is irrelevant whether the individual or individuals who are bullying intend to bully the victim.

What constitutes unreasonable behaviour?

  • constant unjustified criticism or complaints
  • constant threats to sack or demote
  • excluding someone from workplace activities
  • inconsistent and arbitrary enforcement of rules
  • setting unreasonable timelines
  • deliberately changing work arrangements in order to inconvenience someone
  • setting tasks that are unreasonable
  • excessive scrutiny of work performance
  • withholding information or tools required to perform work
  • taking credit for another employee's work and failing to acknowledge that employee
  • verbal abuse, and
  • assault.

What isn’t bullying?

It is important to note that bullying involves repeated unreasonable behaviour. A single incident is insufficient.

There are a range of behaviours that could amount to bullying. However, reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner does not constitute bullying. A performance assessment that you disagree with will not constitute bullying provided that it is conducted in a reasonable manner.

When does bullying turn criminal?

Behaviours involving unwanted physical contact or damage to property may also constitute criminal offences. If you experience any such behaviour, you should consider reporting the matter to the police.

What should I do if I am being bullied at work?

In addition to seeking legal advice, you can also do a number of simple things which may assist. They include:

  1. Keep a diary. Take notes of all the workplace bullying and harassment that happens to you, when it happens and who the perpetrator is.
  2. Be informed. Make sure you have a copy of your contract of employment, enterprise agreement and workplace policies and procedures that deal with occupational health and safety and harassment.
  3. If you are a union member, contact your union. Many unions are experienced in dealing with workplace bullying and harassment. If the workplace bullying and harassment is affecting a number of employees there are advantages to addressing it collectively.
  4. Speak to your OH&S representative. Get advice about procedures in your workplace.
  5. Address the situation early. Employees who are subject to workplace bullying and harassment often put the issue to one side and wait before it gets really bad before addressing it. By this time the employee may have already suffered a work related stress injury and if this is the case, they may not be able to continue working.
  6. Make a complaint. Employees who make a complaint or inquiry in relation to their employment are protected from adverse action under the Fair Work Act 2009. It is better if the complaint is in writing because this will be easier to use as evidence should the need arise. When writing a complaint be concise and stick to the key points. You should also check any policies that your employer has relating to complaints, grievance, bullying or equal opportunity. These policies may detail the form and process for making a complaint.
  7. Take care of your health. Your mental and physical health is very important. If workplace discrimination, bullying or harassment is affecting you, make sure you see your doctor about it.
  8. Seek advice. Working out which legal or practical decisions to make can be difficult with workplace discrimination cases.  We can provide support and advice on a range of legal and personal matters.

What are my workplace bullying rights?

Your rights in relation to workplace bullying can vary according to a number of factors including the nature of the workplace bullying and the reason or reasons for the workplace bullying.

The Federal Government introduced new laws specifically designed to combat workplace bullying. The laws commenced operation on 1 January 2014. Click here for more information on your rights with respect to these new laws.

As well as the 2014 anti-bullying laws, workplace bullying may also be covered by discrimination law, general protections under the Fair Work Act 2009, unfair dismissal law, employment contract law and enterprise agreements in the workplace, and occupational health and safety law.

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