Workplace bullying: what it is & how to take action
Let’s make this clear: the good news about bullying is that you don’t have to take it. In Australia, there are rules against bullying and support available for those on the receiving end. Bullying is unfair and can have dire consequences for the recipient; this is why there are rules to protect people. Even minor, insidious cases of bullying can have extremely unpleasant consequences. Let’s look at what workplace bullying actually is and see what you can do if you encounter it.
Workplace bullying defined
What is workplace bullying?
Physical, verbal, psychological or social abuse by your employer, manager, another co-worker or group of individuals at work.
Where can it happen?
Workplace bullying can happen in any work environment, from workshops, cafes, service providers such as child care centres or gyms, offices, community groups or government organisations.
Who can be the target of workplace bullying?
Full-time employees are not the only ones that suffer the consequences of workplace bullying. Volunteers, work experience students, apprentices, casual and part-time staff can also be affected.
How serious is workplace bullying?
Some types of workplace bullying are criminal offences. It’s important to understand what type of activity warrants police or legal action.
Some examples of workplace bullying
- ongoing rude or hurtful comments, making fun of your work or you as a person, which includes remarks on your race, sexuality, gender, education or economic background;
- instructing you to do pointless tasks that are completely outside your job description;
- sexual harassment of any type, but particularly sexually specific comments, unwelcome touching and requests that make you feel ill at ease or uncomfortable;
- deliberately changing your work hours or schedule to make your timetable impossible;
- intimidating you in any way, such as making you feel undervalued and unimportant;
- playing mind-games or any other type of psychological harassment;
- team members ganging up on you;
- physical pushing, attacking, physical threats, tripping, shoving or grabbing in the workplace;
- ‘initiation’ games – where you are made to do ridiculous, humiliating or dangerous things in order to be accepted as part of the work team.
How can bullying affect you?
Workplace bullying can affect your emotional health, energy and self-esteem. You may find yourself suffering from anxiety and depression, feeling intimidated, scared or lacking in confidence. Your life outside work may be affected, resulting in problems with relationships and family life, sleep and health problems.
What is not workplace bullying?
Now this bit is equally important as “what is bullying”! Sometimes events happen in the workplace that can make us feel mind-blowingly stressed or unhappy, but just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean that it is bullying. Unpleasant events such as being demoted, transferred, disciplined, or retrenched (providing the situation is handled appropriately) are all allowable and sometimes necessary parts of running a business.
It is important to note also that receiving feedback on your performance at work that is negative or constructive in nature also not necessarily bullying, even though you might find it confronting or unpleasant.
What to do if you’re being bullied at work
If you think the treatment you are receiving does meet the definition of bullying, here are some suggestions about what to do. Check your employer’s policies and procedures for information on bullying and harassment. Many employers will have a process documented for seeking help on bullying issues. Find someone you can trust to give you support, either through a work support service, trusted colleague or contact a union representative if is there is no specific service.
Keep a diary and record the events. Remember to include activities you’ve done to stop the bullying. This sort of evidence helps if you need to report the issue later.
It’s always best to try an informal approach first of all, and directly approach the person that is bullying you. Make it clear that their actions are not acceptable and are unwanted. If you’re not sure about what to say or how to act in such a situation, get advice from someone first, and if you need to, ask the person to come with you for support when you meet with the person who is bullying you. If you work in a larger or government organisation, follow the processes in place that allow you to make a complaint and attempt to resolve any disputes.
If the situation continues…
If the bullying continues despite your efforts to resolve the situation, there are options available to take further action.
Police – for violent or threatening activities
If the bullying is overtly violent or threatening, it could be considered a criminal offence. Call the police immediately on 000. If the situation is not life-threatening, or you are not in direct danger, do not call 000. Dialing 000 is for emergencies only.
If you need to report your situation to the police, with the exception of Victoria, call 131 444. In Victoria, call your local police station, the Victoria Police Centre Switchboard on (03) 9247 6666, or go to the local police station to lodge a report.
The Commonwealth Fair Work Ombudsman
For your rights and rules, and protection against harassment and discrimination: Call 131394.
State or Territory Work Health and Safety Authority
To ensure the health, safety and welfare at work for all employees, contact your relevant State or Territory Work Health Safety Authority.
The Australian Human Rights Commission
For all issues involving bullying, harassment or discrimination due to your age, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability or if you are pregnant: Call 1300 656 419.