Bullying in the workplace

Everyone has the right to a workplace free from bullying.

Bullying at work happens when:

  • a person or group of people repeatedly behave unreasonably towards another worker or group of workers
  • the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

What is bullying?

Bullying happens at work when:

  • a person or group of people repeatedly behave unreasonably towards another worker or group of workers
  • the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Examples of bullying include:

  • behaving aggressively towards others
  • teasing or playing practical jokes
  • pressuring someone to behave inappropriately
  • excluding someone from work-related events
  • unreasonable work demands.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

Under the Fair Work Act, sexual harassment at work happens when a worker or group of workers:

  • makes an unwelcome sexual advance
  • makes an unwelcome request for sexual favours
  • engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to another worker.

To be sexual harassment, it has to be reasonable to expect that there is a possibility that the worker being sexually harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Some forms of sexual harassment can also be considered bullying if the behaviour is repeated or continuous. But unlike bullying, sexual harassment does not need to be continuous or repeated behaviour, it can be a one-off event. There is also no need to establish a risk to health and safety.

Find out more at Sexual harassment in the workplace.

Discrimination in the workplace

Bullying is different from discrimination. The Fair Work Act prohibits an employer from taking adverse action against an employee for discriminatory reasons, including their sex, race, religion or gender. Adverse action can include firing or demoting someone.

Bullying doesn't have to be related to a person’s or group's characteristics. Adverse action doesn’t have to have happened for bullying to occur.

Find out more about discrimination at Protection from discrimination at work.

Reasonable management action

Reasonable management action that's carried out in a reasonable way is not bullying.

An employer or manager can:

  • make decisions about poor performance
  • take disciplinary action
  • direct and control the way work is carried out.

Management action that isn't carried out in a reasonable way may be considered bullying.

Protection from bullying in the workplace

The laws to stop bullying under the Fair Work Act only apply to certain workers in Australia. A worker includes:

  • an employee
  • a contractor or subcontractor
  • an outworker
  • an apprentice or a trainee
  • an intern
  • a student gaining work experience
  • some volunteers.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) is the national workplace relations tribunal that deals with applications to stop bullying at work under the Fair Work Act.

To find out whether you're covered by the national anti-bullying laws, visit the FWC's website external-icon.png.

If these laws don’t cover you, each state and territory has a workplace health and safety body that can provide advice and assistance about workplace bullying. For contact information, go to our list of workplace health and safety bodies.

Source reference: Fair Work Act 2009 s.789FA – 789FI external-icon.png

Where to get workplace help

For employees

In the workplace

If you think bullying, sexual harassment or discrimination has happened at your workplace, you can talk to:

  • a supervisor or manager
  • a health and safety representative
  • the human resources department
  • a union
  • a lawyer.

Visit the Unions and employer associations page to find registered unions in your industry.

Fair Work Commission

If you're still employed, you can take the FWC's anti-bullying eligibility quiz external-icon.png. If you're eligible, you can lodge a stop bullying application with the FWC external-icon.png.

You can get free legal advice (if eligible) about general protections or bullying from the FWC’s Workplace Advice Service external-icon.png.

Fair Work Ombudsman

If someone doesn’t comply with an FWC stop bullying order, you can contact us for help.

Australian Human Rights Commission

There are also national bodies that may be able to help, including the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) external-icon.png.

The AHRC accepts complaints about workplace bullying, harassment or discrimination covered by federal discrimination laws, including sex, disability, race and age discrimination. The AHRC also has specific complaint handling functions for complaints about discrimination on the basis of irrelevant criminal record and religious belief discrimination in employment.

The AHRC uses conciliation between parties to reach a resolution.

Other bodies

You can also act by contacting:

For employers

Fair Work Commission

To learn more about the FWC's role in dealing with complaints of bullying at work, download their Anti-bullying guide external-icon.png.

Small businesses may be eligible for free legal advice from the FWC’s Workplace Advice Service external-icon.png.

Performance management

Action carried out by a manager in a reasonable way isn't bullying. For information on how to take reasonable management action to make sure employees are doing their job properly, get our Managing performance and warnings best practice guide.

Preventing bullying at work

Read:

Visit your relevant state or territory anti-discrimination body.

Related information