Workplace bullying: information for employers

All employees have a legal right to a safe, healthy workplace - one that's free from bullying and harassment. And as an employer, responsibility for employee safety sits with you. That means taking steps to manage any risks to employee mental health, including dealing with bullying behaviour, quickly and effectively.

Beyond Blue research (PDF) highlights a strong relationship between negative workplace culture and bullying. One of the best things you can do to stamp out bullying is to make respect a non-negotiable feature of your workplace.

unsure lady biting on nails

Tips for preventing workplace bullying

  • Ensure workplace stressors and risks are reduced: Poorly defined roles and systems of work are a risk factor for bullying. Ensuring your employees understand their roles and have the appropriate skills and resources to do their job helps to reduce issues and conflict that could lead to bullying.

  • Develop respectful workplace relationships through promoting positive leadership styles by training managers and supervisors on communicating effectively and engaging staff in decision making. Encourage regular and honest performance feedback, provided in a respectful way.

  • Provide all leaders with training to help them recognise the signs of bullying, confidently enforce anti-bullying policies, and understand that ignoring bullying behaviour will not be tolerated.

  • Provide training and information to all staff on appropriate and inappropriate workplace behaviour and on what they can do to prevent and respond to workplace bullying, ensuring everyone feels confident to call out bullying when they see it.

  • Include bullying and harassment information in workplace induction programs.

  • Encourage employees talk to their manager or HR officer if they feel they are being bullied or see inappropriate behaviour taking place.

  • Implement confidential reporting and response procedures for when bullying occurs, treating all matters seriously. Ensure policies and procedures protect anyone who reports or witnesses workplace bullying from victimisation. Ensure you communicate the policies and procedures to staff so they know where to go and what to do.

Developing a policy that works for you

Being clear about what's expected of everyone - and what unacceptable behaviour looks like - is a great first step. Make sure all employees get a say about what should go into your workplace's code of conduct or anti-bullying policy, including how to deal with unacceptable behaviour.

Your policy should include:

  • how to report bullying
  • the process that you will follow to ensure transparency, confidentiality, available support and fairness
  • what will happen once the claim has been investigated

Following up with training and information on the policy means everyone's on the same page.

Check out Safe Work Australia's workplace bullying policy to give you some ideas, or use Comcare's bullying policy checklist to help identify any areas for improvement to your current bullying policy.



Case studies

two colleagues talking

To learn more about how other workplaces have dealt with instances of bullying, view Turning the tide on bullying and poor workplace cultures (PDF) developed by the Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC). The report showcases five case studies from Victorian public sector organisations which have successfully reduced bullying rates. This report provides details on the journey taken by these organisations including responses and reflections, and advice to others.

Also check out the Joyfoods case study to learn how training can help prevent workplace bullying.



Monitor and review

Make sure you review your bullying policy regularly and get everyone involved in the process. This will help you refine your procedures and ensure they continue to meet your needs.

Further reading and resources



Responding to an accusation of bullying

Acting promptly on issues when they're raised can stop the situation happening again and show employees that workplace bullying is treated seriously by the organisation.

Start with the following questions:

  • Is the behaviour bullying or not?
  • Do measures need to be taken to minimise the risk of ongoing harm?
  • Do I have clear understanding of the issues?
  • Do I need additional information or assistance?
  • Can the matter be safely resolved between the parties at a team level?
  • Should the matter be formally investigated?


Responding to workplace bullying

  • Tips on what to do



What happens if the accusation is proven?

If an allegation of workplace bullying is proven, you’ll need to take action in line with your agreed policies and procedures. What you do will depend on how serious the situation is and can be a combination of the individual and organisational strategies listed below. 

At an individual level:

  • Request an apology and a commitment that the behaviour will not be repeated, and monitor the situation over time.
  • Provide coaching or training e.g. communication skills, leadership, interpersonal skills, etc.
  • Offer counselling support.
  • Consider transferring an employee or employees to another work area.
  • Provide a verbal or written warning.
  • Demote or dismiss the perpetrator or take other actions subject to workplace relations laws.

At an organisational level:

  • Address organisational issues that may have contributed to the behaviour.
  • Review your organisation's workplace bullying policy.
  • Provide information to employees to raise awareness of workplace bullying.


What happens if the accusation is not proven?

If an investigation finds a report of bullying isn’t proven, you’ll still need to resolve the issue. There’s likely to be tension between the staff members involved, and emotions can be running high. You might need to think about mediation, counselling or changing work arrangements, or a combination of these approaches. If the report has been made maliciously, you may need to take further action.

Anything you do should be consistent with your policies on misconduct and disciplinary action.

For more information, see Chapter 3 of Safe Work Australia's Guide for preventing and responding to workplace bullying.