Bullying is a scourge in the workplace. From the more obvious forms of physical violence and overt sexual harassment, to its more subtle forms, like exclusion and rumour spreading: the ugly head of bullying has many faces. Quite often, employers and other employees alike are dismissive of bullying in its more subtle forms, often viewing it as something akin to mere "high school antics" and something that the perpetrator and victim should just get over.

The reality though, is that bullying, whether it is overt or subtle, can be equally as damaging, and often, it is the damage to the victim's mental health rather than any physical harm that is the most profound and lasting. Community understanding of bullying, what it is, and how it can affect an individual is evolving. One sign of that evolution is the introduction of the stop bullying regime in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

The stop bullying regime allows a victim of bullying to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order that the employer take positive steps to stop the bullying behavior and prevent it from happening in the future. Failure to comply can result in significant adverse (and expensive) consequences for employers. This can be a powerful tool for victims, as it does not simply target the perpetrator, but compels the employer to actively intervene. An employer has a legal obligation to provide an employee with a safe working environment, the stop bullying regime is just one aspect of this obligation.

Employers looking to create a culture where bullying does not occur and/or looking to mitigate its effect, can start by:

  1. Having a clear, detailed policy for handling bullying complaints; and
  2. Consistently and proactively enforce that policy;
  3. Seek regular legal advice to ensure that policy reflects the law, which constantly evolves.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.