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How To Take Legal Action Against Workplace Bullying

When it comes to claims involving workplace bullying and harassment, there’s an overlap between personal injury law and employment law.

This is important to know because, if you’ve experienced bullying in the workplace, you will need to seek advice from two professionals: a personal injuries lawyer and an employment law specialist. Combined, these lawyers will give you a complete understanding of all your legal rights.


What is Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that gives rise to a risk to health and safety.

Bullying in the workplace is not confined to face-to-face bullying.  It can include inappropriate emails, text messages or comments made on social media.

While cyberbullying of children and teens has been the subject of research and publications for some time, less attention has been focussed on cyberbullying in the workplace.  A recent study conducted by the Australian Manufacturing and Workers’ Union (AMWU) showed that more than 10% of workers had been a victim of cyberbullying.  All the victims of cyberbullying also experienced some form of face-to-face workplace bullying.

A study conducted by security company AVG Technologies revealed that almost 10% of workers had experienced a manager or supervisor using information found on social media against them or against a colleague.

Comments made on social media may amount to cyberbullying, even if it occurs outside work time. Recent decisions of the Fair Work Commission suggest that in the case of social media, an employee may never be “off duty”.  Posts on Facebook and other social media sites made outside work hours may amount to workplace cyberbullying, and employees may be sanctioned for expressing opinions about their workplace, their work colleagues or other work-related issues, even if the opinion was made “privately” on a social media site.

However, what actually constitutes workplace bullying if often misunderstood.

Examples of harassment or bullying in the workplace can constitute:

  • humiliating abuse
  • deliberately ignoring or excluding a person
  • undermining performance
  • physical, sexual or verbal abuse
  • abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments
  • unjustified criticism or complaints
  • withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
  • setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines
  • setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a person’s skill level
  • denying access to information, supervision, consultation or resources to the detriment of the worker
  • spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
  • changing work arrangements such as rosters and leave to deliberately inconvenience a particular worker or workers

What isn’t considered Workplace Bullying?

If you are witnessing or experiencing the following within the workplace, this is not classified as bullying and would not constitute a claim in most instances:

  • an employer/manager making decisions in relations to poor workplace performance
  • disciplinary action taken against an employee
  • directly controlling (in a reasonable manner) the way that work is performed

Man holds temples in frustration


What is the Role of the Employer When Workplace Bullying Occurs?

From a personal injuries perspective, employers have a duty of care to ensure that their employees are kept safe while they are at work.  This applies to both physical and psychological injuries.  An employer that allows bullying to occur in the workplace is not meeting their obligation to provide a safe workplace.

Where an employer is aware of the bullying and fails to take reasonable steps to prevent it, the worker may be entitled to make a common law claim for compensation for their injuries.


Is Bullying at Work Illegal?

An employer is vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. This means that the employer may not be directly aware of what has been going on inside the workplace but a claim may be brought against the employer rather than the bully directly.

Under anti-discrimination law, it is unlawful to treat an employee differently due to their sexual orientation, race, disability, gender, or age, with unlawful actions being considered as bullying or harassment.


What Legislation Covers Bullying in The Workplace?

Bullying is defined according in section 789FD of the Fair Work Amendment Act 2013 as when an individual person or a group of individuals repeatedly behave unreasonably toward a worker or group of workers, of which the worker is a member. This behaviour must also create a risk to health and safety.

A victim of bullying or harassment in the workplace may be entitled to damages for any psychological injury that results from such treatment, as well as associated medical expenses and resulting financial losses.

Under the workers’ compensation laws in Queensland, a worker will be entitled to compensation for psychological injuries if the worker can show that the employment is the significant contributing factor to the injury and that the employer failed to take reasonable management action to prevent the injury.


How to Deal With Workplace Bullying

Dealing with workplace bullying is often difficult. Workplace policies and procedures may offer a starting point. It is important that the bullying be reported to a supervisor or manager, or by contacting the Fair Work Commission.

If you are experiencing bullying at work, consider taking these steps:

  • Tell your employer, HR officer or supervisor (unless he or she is the bully).
  • Seek counselling and support.
  • Go to your doctor to seek advice and help, but also to report the bullying.
  • Seek out witnesses to the bullying or harassment.
  • If you feel physically threatened, speak to the police.
  • If you require medical treatment or have income loss as a result of the bullying, lodge an application for workers’ compensation.
  • Obtain advice from an employment law solicitor and a personal injuries solicitor.

How To Report Workplace Bullying

If you have experienced workplace bullying or know of a colleague who is being bullied at your workplace there are steps you can take to escalate the issue more formally. One step is to report the workplace bullying by making a formal complaint to the company human resource department.

If this is not comfortable given your situation or nothing comes of this complaint and the workplace bullying continues, you can apply to stop the harassment or bullying at work online. This can be achieved through completing the Fair Work Commission’s Form F72, if you are eligible. To learn more about your eligibility or to learn more about your workers compensation entitlements, contact GC Law.

GC Law can help you with personal injury and employment legal advice. If you have been bullied at work, you need to understand all of your rights. Call us today to discuss your case on 1300 302 318 or get in touch regarding your free claim review.

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