Workplace bullying can occur in any business, affecting a multitude of people.

It is important that employers put processes in place to prevent and work through issues of bullying. From an employment law perspective, an employer is charged with a duty to eliminate all risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable, as per Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate all risks to health and safety, the employer has a duty to minimise the risk. Workplace bullying falls within the Act as it is a risk to health and safety.

What is workplace bullying?

WorkSafe defines bullying as “repeated and unreasonable behaviour towards a worker or group of workers that can cause physical and psychological harm”. This is constant behaviour that the ordinary person would think was unacceptable. WorkSafe and case law detail that the victim will be at the centre of considerations when determining workplace bullying.

WorkSafe classifies actions as direct and indirect bullying. Direct bullying includes intimidation and belittling remarks. Indirect bullying includes the making of unachievable tasks and constant criticism. For more information on determining bullying, see The Legal Aspects of Workplace Bullying.

Likelihood of bullying

As per the Health and Safety at Work Act, a risk to health and safety must be eliminated as far as reasonably practicable. Bullying is unlikely to be eradicated completely, so a business should work to minimise it as much as possible.

Before determining how to combat bullying, it is essential to reflect on your business to determine the level of concern. This could be done by looking at staff turnover, creating staff surveys or looking at absenteeism. Even if there is seen to be a low risk of bullying in a business, provisions should still be in place to create an environment that discourages it. It is also important that a business regularly reviews their processes.

Workplace Bullying Prevention

There are multiple practices that can be put in place to create a healthy work environment that discourages bullying. WorkSafe provides a guide for how to prevent and work through bullying in the workplace. Among their guidance are the following practices:

Building positive relationships in a good working environment

A code of conduct should be set that details how people should act in the workplace. This establishes core values of a business and facilitates an anti-bullying work culture. Good working relationships are likely to be formed through creating an environment that actively discourages bullying and promotes open communication. This underlies all policy created to prevent workplace bullying.


Educating staff on what bullying is and how it is measured will help create an environment that is quick to recognise bullying behaviour. It is important to emphasise the focus on the victim and how bullying impacts them. This allows people to have a greater awareness of their actions. The workplace is better equipped to prevent bullying where there is an understanding of how bullying affects people and how to identify it.

Effective management

Training managers to lead a team is crucial to workplace functioning. This builds supportive relationships that allow for communication and trust. Bullying is more likely to be prevented and combatted by teaching managers to recognise signs of bullying and promoting effective leadership. This furthers positive relationships in the workplace.

System transparency

Having a clear system to work through bullying guarantees understanding of processes related to bullying in the workplace. This means that all people should be aware of reporting, investigation and what happens after the investigation is carried out. There should be no surprises in the system and it should be regularly reviewed. This will facilitate the creation of positive relationships.

Workplace bullying can affect any workplace. Provisions need to be in place to prevent workplace bullying as far as possible so that a comfortable and supportive workplace is created. For more guidance on workplace bullying and employment law, contact Bell & Co on (04) 499 4014.