Behaving badly in the workplace

Public news

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has the primary duty of care under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that workers and other persons are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from work carried out as part of the business or undertaking. Whilst we commonly think of safety risks involving equipment failure and physical injuries, workplace bullying is also a risk to health and safety because it may affect the mental and physical health of workers.

“Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety”.

Examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments
  • Aggressive and intimidating conduct
  • Belittling or humiliating comments
  • Practical jokes or initiation
  • Unjustified criticism or complaints

It can also include subtle behaviours such as:

  • Setting difficult timelines
  • Setting tasks beyond a worker’s ability
  • Deliberately excluding someone from work-related activities
  • Withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
  • Denying access to information, supervision or resources to the detriment of the worker
  • Spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
  • Changing rosters to deliberately inconvenience a worker

Psychological-injury risks should be addressed by both WHS and Human Resource (HR) processes e.g. identifying potential causes of a psychological injury and having formal complaint investigation processes in place.

Many employers fail in their WHS duties by allowing employees’ bad behaviour to go unchecked as they fail to monitor conduct and address inappropriate behaviour. Unless employers take all reasonable steps to prevent unacceptable conduct, they may end up being convicted under the WHS legislation or made to pay a significant fine because of their employees’ actions.

In an effort to reduce or eliminate psychological injuries, employers should:

  • Clearly define bullying, discrimination and harassment in their policies;
  • Ensure induction and training create and maintain awareness of issues relating to psychological injuries;
  • Include after-hours social events, email and internet usage in policies;
  • Train managers on how to deal with a complaint;
  • Ensure disciplinary action is taken if the allegations are substantiated;
  • Promote a zero-tolerance approach;
  • Ensure that managers and supervisors lead by example; and
  • Ensure procedural fairness is adhered during any disciplinary process.

Importantly, workers should be encouraged to come forward and alert management to any incidents of bullying, harassment or discrimination they may witness. They need to know that any reports will be taken seriously.

If you have any questions about the information above, or require assistance in investigating allegations of bullying, please contact the MTA WR team on 8291 2000, or at

Alternatively, if you would like to learn more about this topic and how it relates to your business, you can book into the MTA’s Bullying and Harassment workshop in late July.