What it is and how to recognise it

What is bullying and harassment?

Bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers. It creates a risk to personal and workplace health and safety.

Differences of opinion, conflicts and personality clashes can happen in the workplace and they are not bullying. But if the behaviour goes beyond a one-off disagreement, if it increases in intensity or becomes offensive or harmful to someone, it is bullying.

Bullying and harassment can be verbal, physical, written or electronic (such as emails and texting). It can include:

  • insults and constant criticism that make you feel humiliated or intimidated
  • cruel and malicious rumors, gossip and innuendo
  • deliberately and repeatedly being ignored, excluded or undermined, or
  • behaviour or language that frightens or degrades you - this might include swearing, threats and yelling.

Bullying and harassment may be linked to work tasks and duties. As an employer or manager, you are bullying a worker if you deliberately:

  • give work that is unreasonably above or below the worker’s ability
  • give meaningless work that is unrelated to the worker’s job
  • give inconvenient rosters, or change hours on a whim or to inconvenience the worker
  • deny information or resources the worker requires to do their job, or
  • scrutinise work excessively and unreasonably

Harassment based on prejudices is discrimination – a serious issue that is against the law. In some cases, bullying may be part of the workplace culture, continued—and wrongly accepted—over time as “the way things are done here”. That doesn’t make it acceptable.

What isn't bullying?

Reasonable management actions carried out in a fair and reasonable way are not bullying.

For example, bullying is not:

  • setting standards and deadlines
  • allocating work to a worker
  • transferring a worker
  • deciding not to select a worker for promotion
  • informing a worker about unsatisfactory work performance or inappropriate behaviours, or
  • providing constructive feedback.

Even poor management practices don’t necessarily constitute bullying. Differences of opinion or personality clashes, provided they don’t interfere with work, aren’t bullying either.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is uninvited and unwelcome sexual behaviour including physical contact, verbal abuse or comments and offensive gestures and literature. It should not be confused with workplace flirtation that is mutual and based on consent and attraction. Sexual harassment is coercive: It brings sex into the workplace, to be used as a tool of control or abuse.

Sexual harassment is never the victim’s fault. It can happen to men as well as women and it can come from a work colleague as well as a manager or employer. It is unacceptable no matter who does it.

Sexual harassment may be a single incident or a series of incidents. It includes:

  • personally offensive verbal comments
  • sexual or smutty jokes
  • the display of offensive material in the workplace
  • repeated comments or teasing about a person’s alleged sexual activities or private life
  • persistent unwelcome social invitations or phone calls/emails/text messages from workmates/supervisors/employer at work or at home
  • unsolicited letters
  • obscene phone calls/emails/text messages
  • stares and leersoffensive hand or body gestures, or
  • unwelcome physical contact such as patting, pinching, touching or putting an arm around another person’s body or bodily pressure on another person’s body.

What can I do?

HACSU offers support and guidance and anything you say to us will be treated confidentially. You can call HACSU and we will help you take steps to have the problem addressed.

If you feel that you are being bullied in your workplace, you should document the alleged bullying or harassment with information such as dates, times and any witnesses to the incidents.

If you require support please call HACSU on 1300 880 032.