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Workplace bullying: Violence, Harassment and Bullying Fact sheet

Friday 14 December, 2012

kid hiding in a dark corner of a room with his arms folded


If you are being bullied at work and need support, you can read this factsheet and go to the Get Help section. If you know or see someone being bullied you can go to the Supportive Bystander FactSheet to find out how to help them. 

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by your employer (or manager), another person or group of people at work. 

Workplace bullying can happen in any type of workplace, from offices to shops, cafes, restaurants, workshops, community groups and government organisations. 

Workplace bullying can happen to volunteers, work experience students, interns, apprentices, casual and permanent employees.

Some types of workplace bullying are criminal offences. If you have experienced violence, assault and stalking you can report it directly to the police.

What does bullying in the workplace look like?

  • repeated hurtful remarks or attacks, or making fun of your work or you as a person (including your family, sex, sexuality, gender identity, race or culture, education or economic background)  
  • sexual harassment, particularly stuff like unwelcome touching and sexually explicit comments and requests that make you uncomfortable 
  • excluding you or stopping you from working with people or taking part in activities that relates to your work
  • playing mind games, ganging up on you, or other types of psychological harassment 
  • intimidation (making you feel less important and undervalued)  
  • giving you pointless tasks that have nothing to do with your job  
  • giving you impossible jobs that can't be done in the given time or with the resources provided  
  • deliberately changing your work hours or schedule to make it difficult for you 
  • deliberately holding back information you need for getting your work done properly
  • pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing you in the workplace 
  • attacking or threatening with equipment, knives, guns, clubs or any other type of object that can be turned into a weapon  
  • initiation or hazing - where you are made to do humiliating or inappropriate things in order to be accepted as part of the team.  

How bullying can affect your work

If you are being bullied at work you might:

  • be less active or successful   
  • be less confident in your work 
  • feel scared, stressed, anxious or depressed 
  • have your life outside of work affected, e.g. study, relationships 
  • want to stay away from work 
  • feel like you can’t trust your employer or the people who you work with
  • lack confidence and happiness about yourself and your work 
  • have physical signs of stress like headaches, backaches, sleep problems

What is not workplace bullying 

Some practices in the workplace may not seem fair but are not bullying.  

Your employer is allowed to transfer, demote, discipline, counsel, retrench or sack you (as long as they are acting reasonably). 

What you need to know if you are being bullied at work 

When you are being bullied it's important that you know there are things you can do and people who can help. 

You have the right to be in a safe workplace free from violence, harassment and bullying.

Bullying and abuse

If you are under 16 years old, bullying and violence may also be child abuse. See the Lawstuff topic on child abuse under your state or territory for more information.

Bullying and discrimination

Bullying may also be discrimination if it is because of your age, sex, pregnancy, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or certain other reasons. Sexual harassment and racial hatred are also against the law. For more information on what anti-discrimination laws cover, and what you can do about it, look at the Australian Human Rights Commission page

Responsibility of employers

Your employer has a legal responsibility under Occupational Health and Safety and anti-discrimination law to provide a safe workplace. Employers have a duty of care for your health and wellbeing whilst at work. An employer that allows bullying to occur in the workplace is not meeting this responsibility.  

Responsibility of bystanders

We all have a moral responsibility to help create a positive, safe workplace.  If someone in your workplace is experiencing harassment or bullying, you can tell them about the steps they can take to solve it. 

What you can do if you are being bullied at work

Make sure you're informed. Check to see if your workplace has a bullying policy and complaints procedure. 

Keep a diary. Documenting everything that happens, including what you've done to try stopping it. This can help if you make a complaint.

Get support from someone you trust or contact support services.  Even if you don’t know anyone you can talk to, there are support services which are immediately available to help and support you in the Get Help section. This includes contacting your union

Approach the bully. If you feel safe and confident, you can approach the person who is bullying you and tell them that their behaviour is unwanted and not acceptable. If you are unsure how to approach them, you might be able to get advice from an appointed contact person, or from a colleague or manager.

Tell someone at your work. Your workplace will usually have a process for making a complaint and resolving disputes, which might include a warning, requiring the bully to have counselling, a mediation process, or even firing the bully if the situation continues. The person to talk to might be your supervisor/manager, a harassment contact officer, or a health and safety representative (if your work has one).  

Get information and advice. If the bullying is serious, if the situation has not changed after complaining to your manager, or if there is not anyone you can safely talk to at work you can get outside information and advice. 

Using the links below you can contact:

  • your workplace health and safety authority to get advice and report bullying incidents
  • the Australian Human Rights Commission to get advice, or to make a complaint about discrimination, harassment and bullying covered by anti-discrimination law
  • the union representing your industry who can give you advice on your options and your rights
  • Lawstuff for legal information especially for young people

Make a formal complaint to the state and territory workplace health and safety authority or to the Australian Human Rights Commission, using the links below. 

Getting Help

If you have made a complaint to your manager or others in your workplace and there have not been adequate steps taken to stop the bullying there are a number of options that you can take to get help. 

When to contact the police

If bullying is violent or threatening it may be a criminal offense and you should contact the police immediately call 000

If the situation in not urgent you can call 131 444 for all states and territories except for Victoria where you will need to visit your local police station. 

Making a complaint about workplace bullying to the Australian Human Rights Commission 

If you are been bullied, harassed or discriminated against because of your race, sex, age, sexual orientation, religion or because you have a disability or are pregnant you can contact the Australian Human Rights Commission. Call 1300 656 419

The Commonwealth Fairwork Ombudsman can provide information and advice about Australia’s workplace rights and rules and the protection you have against harassment and discrimination.  Call  131394

Report bullying to a State or Territory work health and safety authority

Your boss has a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. You can report bullying incidences to the following state and territory work health and safety authorities.

Australian Capital Territory

New South Wales

Northern Territory

South Australia



Western Australia


  • WorkSafe Tas can provide advice and help if you are experiencing workplace bullying. Call 1300 366 322 (within Tasmania) or (03) 6166 4600 (outside Tasmania)  


Other useful links

  • Lawstuff. To find out about the rights and responsibilities of you and your employer visit the Lawstuff website, click on your state or territory, and go to the ‘on the job’ section
  • Unions Australia. You can get advice on workplace bullying from the Workers helpline 1300 486 466
  • To learn more about your rights at work see the Australian Council of Trade Unions website for students

This fact sheet was developed in partnership with the, 2011