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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 considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable, including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.

Examples of behaviour

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

  • abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments
  • aggressive and intimidating conduct
  • belittling or humiliating comments
  • victimisation
  • practical jokes or initiation
  • unjustified criticism or complaints
  • deliberately excluding someone from work-related 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 to the detriment of the worker
  • spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
  • changing work arrangements such as rosters and leave to deliberately inconvenience a particular worker or workers.

A single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not workplace bullying. However, it may constitute another type of inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour and create a risk of harm to health.

If the behaviour involves violence, for example physical assault or the threat of physical assault, it should be reported to the police. 

What are the effects?

Workplace bullying can adversely affect the physical and psychological health of a person and can result in an increased risk of depression, anxiety or trauma-related disorders.

Exposure to psychosocial hazards and risk factors in the workplace can also affect performance and increase the risk of accidents or incidents.

Unreasonable behaviour is defined by the effect of the behaviour, not the intent of the behaviour, as there may not be any specific intent to cause harm to someone’s health. Whether the unreasonable behaviour was intended or not, or whether the person recognises that their actions could cause harm, does not reduce the risk of harm from the behaviour. 

WHS duties

Everyone in the workplace has a duty to manage hazards and risks to worker physical and psychological health and safety. These duties are set out in the WHS Act. A workplace where mental health and wellbeing is a priority benefits everyone. 

For Businesses/ Person in control of a business or undertaking (PCBU) / Mine operators

A PCBU has the primary duty of care under the WHS Act to ensure that workers and other people are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from work carried out.  This duty includes: 

  • providing and maintaining a work environment that is without risks to health and safety
  • providing and maintaining safe systems of work
  • monitoring the health and safety of workers and the conditions at the workplace to ensure that work related illnesses and injuries are prevented
  • providing appropriate information, instruction, training or supervision to workers and other persons at the workplace to allow work to be carried out safely.

Workers, including managers and supervisors, should be aware of their roles in relation to preventing and responding to inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour and have the appropriate skills to take action where necessary.

Training should cover:

  • awareness of the impact certain behaviours can have on others
  • the work health and safety duties and responsibilities relating to workplace behaviour
  • measures used to prevent inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour from occurring
  • how individuals can respond to inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour
  • how to report inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour
  • how reports will be responded to, including timeframes.

For workers

As a worker, you must take reasonable care for your own health and safety and not adversely affect the health and safety of others. You must comply with reasonable instructions and cooperate with reasonable health and safety policies or procedures.

See Workers and others duties for more information. 

Manage risks

It is a requirement under the WHS legislation to manage risks to worker health and safety, including psychological health and safety. See the Code of practice: Workplace behaviour  and the Code of practice: Psychosocial hazards in the workplace for guidance. 


Further support

Department of Energy, Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety

Safe Work Australia

eSafety Commissioner

Fair Work Ombudsman

Western Australia Industrial Relations Commission

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