Workplace bullying update: How to protect yourself and your staff

by Cameron Edmond20 Aug 2013

Although always an element of the workplace, Scarlet Reid, partner at Henry Davis York, believes workplace bullying has increased in the last few years.

”Perhaps the rise in bullying at the workplace can be linked to the economic crisis and the increased competition for jobs. Maybe the rise in the social media has simply brought greater awareness of an issue that was always there,” she says.

The issue has been addressed by The Government and as reported previously by Australian Broker, changes to the Fair Work Act are set to commence on January 1, 2014.

However, many laws are relevant to workplace bullying. In order to grapple with the array of laws related to the issue, Reid has outlined them and how they may affect organisations:


WHS refers to The Work Health and Safety (WHS) Laws. These are enforced by regulators and regulators can respond to alleged incidents of workplace bullying when the bullying amounts to a failure of the duty holder (such as employers).

These laws protect psychological welfare, although aren’t used a great deal to combat workplace bullying, due to their position in criminal law, which workplace bullying does not often fall under.

Workers Compensation

Workers Compensation is a “no-fault” liability scheme. Persons who have suffered injury or illness caused or contributed to by their work can receive compensation. Although it does apply to psychological-based claims, the psychological damage must be diagnosed as an injury or disease, not simply stress.


When bullying occurs because of a characteristic of the victim that is protected under anti-discrimination laws - such as age, gender, sexual preference and others -, the bullying falls under the discrimination laws and damages of the State. This can be a lengthy procedure, progressing through tribunals and the courts. Recent changes were made to anti-discrimination laws, which can be read about here

Fair Work Act

As previously reported, changes to the Fair Work Act allows workers to report to the FWC if they reasonably believe they have been bullied. The onus of proof to demonstrate bullying hasn’t occurred now falls on the employer. “The idea behind these provisions is to give workers quick access to a regime where they can obtain an order to make the bullying stop,” Reid says.