Workplace bullying is verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse. It can include:
- behaviour that makes you feel intimidated (frightened, offended or humiliated)
- unreasonable criticism about the way you do your tasks at work
- separating you from your co-workers or not including you in work activities
- not telling you things that you need to know to do your job properly
- taking responsibilities away from you, or giving you basic tasks that are not appropriate for your role.
Everyone has the right to have a workplace that is free from violence, bullying, victimisation and harassment. Workplace bullying 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:
- behaviour that is a one-off occurrence
- behaviour that does not create a risk to health and safety
- genuine differences of opinion or approach
- reasonable actions by management.
When bullying at work is discrimination
Not all bullying is discrimination. Bullying is only considered discrimination when someone treats you badly or unfairly 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 at work
You must not be discriminated against at work, whether you are a job applicant, an employee, or a contractor. For example, an employer cannot:
- 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
- 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 or limit access to opportunities for promotion, transfer or other employment benefits because of a personal characteristic
- end a person’s employment on a discriminatory ground – for example, firing a woman because she is pregnant and 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. See Making a complaint about discrimination.
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 written notes of what’s happened, including:
- the dates and times
- who was involved
- anyone who may have seen what happened.
You should also tell your employer and ask for the matter to be recorded. Get a copy of the incident report as soon as possible.
Your employer must do everything reasonable to make your workplace free from bullying and discrimination, if it 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 , it is possible that they will investigate your workplace.
If the bullying continues you may be able to apply to the Fair Work for an order that the bullying stop.
In the most severe cases, bullying behaviours are treated as a crime in Victoria.
We can help you if the bullying is discrimination. This means the bullying is because of a protected characteristic such as your race, gender, sexuality or disability.
If the bullying is not discrimination, and you’re unable to resolve it yourself, we recommend you get advice from , your union or an employment law specialist.
Find out how you can get other support for discrimination.
Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.
We help Victorians with their legal problems and represent those who need it most. Find legal answers, chat with us online, or call us. You can speak to us in English or ask for an interpreter. You can also find more legal information at www.legalaid.vic.gov.au
Reviewed 13 April 2022