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Section A - What is Workplace Bullying?

Workplace Bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.
  • Repeated behaviour: refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can involve a range of behaviours over time.
  • Unreasonable behaviour: means behaviour that a reasonable person, having regard for the circumstances, would see as unreasonable, including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.

Examples of workplace bullying

Examples of behaviours, whether intentional or unintentional, that may be considered to be workplace bullying if they are repeated, unreasonable and create a risk to health and safety include:

  • abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments
  • unjustified criticism or complaints
  • continuously and deliberately excluding someone from workplace activities
  • withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
  • setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines
  • setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a person’s skill level
  • denying access to information, supervision, consultation or resources such that it has a detriment to the worker
  • spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
  • excessive scrutiny at work, or
  • changing work arrangements, such as rosters or leave if it is done to deliberately inconvenience a particular worker or workers.

These behaviours may be considered to be workplace bullying and may be communicated, face to face, in writing, or via electronic media, including:

  • emails
  • text messages
  • instant messages
  • blogging, or
  • social media, such as facebook, twitter, or instagram.

What is not considered to be workplace bullying?

Single incidents

A single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not considered to be workplace bullying; however it may have the potential to escalate and should not be ignored.

Workplace conflict

Low level workplace conflict is generally not considered to be workplace bullying. This is because not all conflicts or disagreements have negative health effects. When conflict is at a low level and is task based, it can be beneficial, for example, where debate leads to new ideas and innovative solutions. Conflict does not always pose a risk to health and safety. However, in some cases, conflict that is not managed safely may escalate to the point where it meets the definition of workplace bullying.

Reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way

There are times when a Parliamentarian or a MOP(S) Act employee authorised by the Parliamentarian to manage another person’s work, may take reasonable management action to effectively direct and control the way work is carried out. It is reasonable for Parliamentarians, and managers and supervisors who are authorised, to allocate work and to give fair and reasonable feedback on a worker’s performance. These actions are usually not considered to be bullying if they are carried out in a reasonable manner, taking the particular circumstances into account.

Examples of reasonable management action include:

  • setting reasonable performance goals, standards and deadlines
  • rostering and allocating working hours where the requirements are reasonable
  • transferring a position for operational reasons (for example: requiring a worker to attend (or not attend) Parliament House, locating an employee in a second electorate office)
  • deciding not to select a worker for promotion where a reasonable process is followed and documented
  • informing a worker about unsatisfactory work performance when undertaken in accordance with any workplace policies or agreements that have been communicated to the worker, such as performance management guidelines used within the Parliamentarian’s office
  • informing a worker about inappropriate behaviour in an objective and confidential way
  • implementing organisational changes, such as restructuring the office, or changing ESA allocations
  • termination of employment.

Discrimination and harassment

Discrimination generally occurs when someone is treated less favourably than others because they belong to a particular group of people, or because they have a particular characteristic such as age, race, gender, disability, religion or sexuality. For example, it would be discriminatory not to hire or promote a woman because she is pregnant or may become pregnant.

Harassment generally involves unwelcome behaviour that intimidates, offends or humiliates a person because of a particular personal characteristic such as age, race, gender, disability, religion or sexuality.

It is possible for a person to be bullied, harassed and discriminated against at the same time. However unlike workplace bullying, discrimination and harassment may be single incidents and are based on some characteristic, or perceived characteristic of the affected person.

There are various laws, for example anti-discrimination, equal employment opportunity, workplace relations and human rights laws, that make it illegal to discriminate against or harass a person in the workplace. The WHS Act includes specific protections against discriminatory conduct for persons raising health and safety concerns or performing legitimate safety‑related functions.

Sexual harassment is a specific form of harassment.  The Australian Human Rights Commission defines sexual harassment as any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. Sexual harassment is not interaction, flirtation or friendship which is mutual or consensual.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) makes sexual harassment unlawful in some circumstances.

Sexual harassment may include:

  • intrusive questions or comments about a person’s private life or the way they look
  • sexually suggestive behaviour, such as leering or staring
  • brushing up against someone, touching, fondling or hugging
  • sexually suggestive comments or jokes
  • displaying offensive screen savers, photos, calendars or objects
  • repeated unwanted requests to go out
  • requests for sex
  • sexually explicit posts on social networking sites
  • insults or taunts of a sexual nature
  • sending sexually explicit emails or text messages
  • inappropriate advances on social networking sites
  • accessing sexually explicit internet sites
  • behaviour that may also be considered to be an offence under criminal law, such as physical assault, indecent exposure, sexual assault, stalking or obscene communications.

Just because someone does not object to inappropriate behaviour in the workplace at the time, does not mean they are consenting to the behaviour.

Sexual harassment is regarded as occurring in the workplace when it happens at work, at work-related events, between people sharing the same workplace, or between colleagues outside of work. A single incident is enough to constitute sexual harassment – unlike workplace bullying, it does not have to be repeated. An incident could also be considered sexual harassment if it offends, humiliates or intimidates someone other than the intended target.

All incidents of Sexual Harassment should be reported to either the employing Parliamentarian or Finance, and where appropriate, the relevant authorities.

Workplace violence is any action, incident or behaviour in which a person is assaulted, threatened, harmed or injured in circumstances relating to their work. The risk of workplace violence must be eliminated or minimised so far as is reasonably practicable.

Within the context of MOP(S) Act employment, workplace violence may originate outside the Parliamentarian’s office, i.e. from members of the public, or from within. Finance can assist with office design features, including physical barriers and duress alarms, to minimise the risk of violence. Within the office, every attempt should be made to address interpersonal conflict quickly, to reduce the risk of escalation.

It is possible for workplace violence to occur within the context of a pattern of bullying. However unlike workplace bullying, workplace violence may occur as a single incident.

Every incident of workplace violence (i.e. physical assault or the threat of physical assault) should be reported to the police by the Parliamentarian or employee immediately, no matter who it involves, because workplace violence is a criminal matter.

Last updated: 01 October 2019