This file contains the WorkCover Corporation's Safe Work brochure titled: Bullying is a safe work issue.


Is someone in your workplace too big for their boots?

Bullying is a safe work issue.

WorkCover Corporation



Bullying is a safe work issue

Workplace bullying and harassment is continuous bad treatment of someone at work by one or more people. It can be harmful to a person's health and wellbeing as well as affecting the productivity of the whole organisation.



Workplace bullying and harassment and the law

The Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act (1986) states that it is the employer's responsibility to provide a safe workplace.

This includes a duty of care for workers' health and wellbeing, which may be affected by bullying.

If the bullying involves physical harm or the threat of a physical attack, criminal laws may apply.

If someone is bullied on the basis of their sex, race or ethnic background, disability, sexual preference, marital status, pregnancy or age, this is covered by the Equal Opportunity Act (1984).

Ultimately, however, the law is the last resort. It's far better to tackle the issue before it hurts individuals and the productivity and reputation of your organisation.



What are the most common form of bullying?

Workplace bullying is usually not about violent behaviour. Research has shown that only around 10 per cent of bullying involves some form of physical assault.

According to the Employee Ombudsman's office, the most commonly reported forms of workplace bullying include constant verbal abuse, ‘nit picking', threats, sarcasm, unjustified criticisms, threats of dismissal or other punishment for no reason, the sabotaging of a person's work, deliberately withholding important information and ostracising people from social networks etc.



Is it really bullying?

It is important to differentiate between a person's legitimate authority at work, and abuse or bullying. All employers have a fundamental legal right to direct and control how work is done, and managers have a responsibility to monitor workflow and give feedback on performance. Consider the following:



What is the effect of workplace bullying?

When someone is being bullied in the workplace it can affect them, not only at work, but at home in their family relationships and in their social and community life. Bullying often results in a person suffering from stress-related illnesses, including:


Workplaces where bullying and harassment are happening are generally less productive and efficient. People feel afraid and insecure, there are high levels of stress and conflict among workers and, ultimately, employers have higher costs. Specifically:



Tackling the issue



If you, or other people, are being bullied at work…you should tell somebody.

Often, people are afraid to report bullying, yet bullies can rely on the very silence of their victims to keep on harassing them. Tell your:


If this doesn't help, in South Australia you can contact:



What about the ‘bully'?

Because bullying centres around the misuse of power within human relationships, many cases of workplace bullying are not clear-cut. The person accused may not be aware of the effect that their behaviour is having, or they may deny the accusations made.


In helping and supporting the person being bullied, it is essential that we do not deny natural justice to the person accused of bullying. Just as the person being bullied has rights, the person accused of bullying has rights, including the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty and the right to be fully informed of the complaint and to reply in full to that complaint.



Take steps to address workplace bullying



Steps employers and managers can take include:



Steps employees can take include:



Workplace bullying is not acceptable.

Every one of us has the capacity to be a bully. Whether or not we become a bully will largely depend on our work environment. People who become bullies may be responding to systemic problems within their organisation.

Remember, no matter who is doing the bullying in the workplace, it is the employer's responsibility to address it.

This means addressing not only the bullying behaviour but the underlying reasons for that behaviour, ie assessing your training, policies, procedures, lines of communication etc to ensure that others are not placed in a situation that may result in bullying behaviour.



Contact details

For more information, assistance or advice about how to address workplace bullying, visit the WorkCover Corporation website at, call 13 18 55 or visit our library at 100 Waymouth Street, Adelaide, South Australia during business hours.




‘Bullies not wanted: Recognising and Eliminating Bullying in the Workplace', Office of the Employee Ombudsman, South Australia, March 2000.

Workplace Services presentation at HSR network meeting at Trades Hall, Adelaide, South Australia on 24 October 2001.

Designed and produced by WorkCover Corporation (South Australia) February 2002.


WorkCover Corporation

Supported by Government of South Australia.

This transcription was made in June 2002, by Print Alternatives Services of the Royal Society for the Blind SA, under section 135ZP of the Copyright Act, 1968.

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