Workplace Bullying & Harassment Law

Companies in Australia have a duty of care to employees under common law and the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986 (the OHS&W Act) to provide a work environment that is free from workplace bullying. Workplace harassment does not just refer to management or employees in your workplace; it extends to clients, suppliers, independent contractors and anyone who has a relationship with your company.

What Is Workplace Bullying?

The following definition is included in section 55A (1) of the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986: ‘Workplace bullying means any behaviour that is repeated, systematic and directed towards an employee or group of employees that a reasonable person, having regard to the circumstances, would expect to victimise, humiliate, undermine or threaten and which creates a risk to health and safety.’

Workplace bullying can take several forms. Employees may face workplace discrimination or harassment because of their gender, sexual orientation, race or religion, disability, age or martial status. Workplace bullying may take the form of psychological and social bullying or physical bullying or violence.

What Should I Do About It?

Keep a Record

It is important to diarise the workplace bullying that is occurring. Write down when the incident occurred and provide as much detail as possible including the date it occurred and the names and addresses of people who witnessed the bullying. If possible, keep copies of any relevant documents. Diaries can be used as evidence in a tribunal or court.

Seek Advice

It is also a good idea to seek information and advice from external government bodies or associations in your respective state. However, they cannot provide legal advice and employees should obtain legal advice from qualified workplace lawyers if they have specific questions about their employer’s obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety legislation:

Make a Formal or Informal Complaint

Approach your direct supervisor or someone you trust such as a work safety representative, or someone from human resources (HR) to discuss the bullying or make a formal complaint and start the resolution process. If possible you should try and resolve matters at an organisational level before seeking legal action.

Speak to the Bully

After seeking advice, if you are able to, speak to the bully directly about their behaviour. This may be done with or without mediation depending on whether you have made a formal complaint. Sometimes the perpetrator is unaware of how their behaviour or words are making you feel and asking a person to assess their behaviour can put an end to it.

Proceed with Legal Action

If a matter cannot be dealt with through organisational processes, then external legal options may be considered. If the bullying continues and your employer cannot or does not help, you can report the behaviour to:

  • WorkCover NSW
  • Office of Industrial Relations
  • Anti-Discrimination Board
  • NSW Police
  • any other official government body or union.

The type of workplace bullying will determine who you report the matter to. If it is a workplace health and safety issue, it falls under WorkCover NSW. For workplace discrimination or sexual harassment, refer your matter to the Anti-Discrimination Board and where there is violence or physical assault, the police should be consulted.

If you are dismissed as a result of making a complaint, or feel that you had to resign because of the complaint, you may be entitled to lodge a claim under the Unfair Dismissal provisions of the Workplace Relations Act 1996. You may wish to seek legal advice at this point to help you through this process.

Our bullying and harassment lawyers are able to advise you about your rights in regards to workplace harassment, bullying and discrimination and employment law and your options to pursuing legal action through a law firm. Our commitment is to our client, so please contact our employment and workplace bullying lawyers during business hours on 1800 770 780.

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