Workplace bullying and discrimination

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Workplace bullying and discrimination

Workplace bullying is verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse. It can include:

  • behaviour that intimidates, manipulates, offends, degrades or humiliates
  • unreasonable criticism that is not part of managing a person’s performance
  • exclusion or isolation from co-workers
  • withholding information you need to perform your job
  • removing responsibility or imposing menial tasks.

Everyone has the right to have a workplace that is free from violence, bullying, victimisation and harassment that creates a risk to health and safety.

Workplace bullying can take place between:

  • a worker and a manager or supervisor
  • co-workers, including trainees
  • a worker and another person in the workplace, for example, a client or a student.

Bullying does not include:

  • bullying behaviour that is a one-off occurrence
  • bullying behaviour that does not create a risk to health and safety
  • genuine differences of opinion or approach
  • reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.

When bullying at work is discrimination

Not all bullying is discrimination. Bullying is only considered discrimination when someone treats you less favourably because of your personal characteristics, such as age, gender, race or religion.

For more information see Discrimination and victimisation or Speaking to your employer about discrimination.

Other forms of discrimination

You must not be discriminated against at work, whether you are a job applicant, an employee, or a contractor. For example, an employer cannot:

  • use answers to interview questions to discriminate against someone, such as asking women if they are planning a family to avoid employing anyone who may take maternity leave
  • refuse to employ someone because of their religion or race
  • have unfair employment conditions, such as having an office space that cannot be used by a person in a wheelchair
  • refuse or limit access to opportunities for promotion, transfer or other employment benefits because of a personal characteristic
  • terminate a person’s employment on a discriminatory ground: for example, terminating a woman’s employment because she discloses that she is pregnant and is eligible to take paid parental leave.

If you think you have been discriminated against in an area that is covered by these laws you can lodge a complaint with the relevant commission.

What you can do about bullying

If you are bullied at work the first step is to tell people you trust about it. It’s a good idea to keep a written record of what’s happened, including:

  • the dates and times of incidents
  • who was involved
  • anyone who may have seen what happened.

You should also tell your employer and ask for the incidents to be recorded. Get a copy of the incident report as soon as possible.

Your employer must to do everything reasonable to make your workplace free from bullying and discrimination that creates a risk to health and safety. If your employer does nothing, or you are not happy with their actions, you can take it further.

If you have been injured you should see a doctor. An injury includes effects on your mental health, such as depression. The doctor may give you a WorkSafe medical certificate. You should consider lodging an application for workers compensation within 30 days of the injury occurring. If you report the bullying to WorkSafe, it is possible that they will investigate your workplace.

If the bullying continues you may be able to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order that the bullying stop. This type of application is available to workers in constitutionally-covered businesses who are being subjected to repeated unreasonable behaviour at work which creates a risk to their health and safety. If an application is made the Fair Work Commission will only make an order where there is an ongoing risk of the bullying continuing.

In the most severe cases, bullying behaviours can now be treated as a crime in Victoria.

If you are unable to resolve the bullying yourself, get advice from JobWatch, your union or an employment law specialist.

Get help

We can help you if the bullying is discrimination. This means the bullying is related to a protected characteristic such as your race, gender, sexuality or disability.

If the bullying is not related to discrimination, we recommend you get advice from JobWatch, your union or an employment law specialist.

Find out how you can get help with discrimination, harassment and bullying.

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