Bullying in the workplace means treatment of a person, or a group, that:

  • is unfair
  • is repeated or ongoing
  • makes people feel embarrassed, victimised, humiliated, threatened or undermined.

A bully can be anyone within the workplace including a manager, a supervisor or a co-worker.

What is bullying behaviour?

Bullying behaviour can be:

  • physical or verbal abuse
  • nit-picking
  • constant put-downs
  • teasing
  • spreading gossip
  • excluding people
  • unreasonably criticising a person's work
  • assigning too much, or inappropriate work
  • withholding information to undermine work performance.

Giving feedback and constructive criticism, raising concerns about work performance, disciplining or dismissing an worker, are not bullying if they are done in a reasonable way.

What you can do

If you think you are being bullied at work, keep a record of what is happening.

Talk to your manager or supervisor, a Human Resources officer, union representative or a workplace health and safety contact person, if you can.

If the problem isn't able to be solved in the workplace, contact SafeWork SA for advice. You can also apply to the Commonwealth Fair Work Commission for an order to stop workplace bullying.

If the bullying causes you to leave your job or results in your dismissal, you may be able to make an unfair dismissal claim.

If the bullying involves physical abuse or threats, criminal laws may also apply.

What employers can do

To recognise if bullying is happening in your business, look for signs like sudden unexplained changes in:

  • rates of absenteeism
  • sick leave
  • staff turnover
  • grievances
  • work-related injuries
  • customer complaints.

Check for any deterioration in workplace relations between staff, clients or managers.

Here are some recommended reasonable steps to reduce the risk of bullying:

  • Develop and promote a written policy which rules out bullying in the workplace.
  • Inform all your staff of what you expect of them.
  • Make sure managers and supervisors know how to promote a safe and fair workplace.
  • Provide awareness training for managers and staff.
  • Know how to handle inappropriate behaviours before they escalate.
  • Have a complaint handling procedure for dealing with problems if they arise.
  • Encourage staff to come forward with problems or complaints.
  • Treat complaints seriously, quickly and confidentially.
  • Monitor the workplace culture.
  • Survey staff on workplace bullying or discuss it at staff meetings.

As an employer, you have legal requirements in relation to preventing workplace bullying.

Work Health and Safety Act requires employers to:

  • provide a safe workplace
  • take care of your staff's physical and psychological wellbeing
  • take steps to recognise, assess and control hazards, including bullying behaviour.

Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA) also requires employers to prevent bullying related to the grounds of discrimination.

Victims of workplace bullying may be able to claim lost wages and medical expenses under the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1986 (SA).