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Managing a Bully in Your Business

Bullying occurs in workplaces across all industries, and it is estimated to cost the economy up to $36 billion annually (Productivity Commission, 2010). Workplace bullying increases employees’ intention to leave and absenteeism rates whilst also decreasing employees’ job satisfaction and commitment (Safe Work Australia).


As an employer, you have a primary duty of care to your workers to provide, so far as is reasonably practicable, a safe work environment, ensuring that they are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

Managing a bully in the workplace can be a complex and stressful experience for management and often creates tension and unease in the workplace. To maintain a positive and productive workplace culture, it is important that bullying complaints are responded to in a timely, professional, and respectful manner.

What is workplace bullying?

The Fair Work Act 2009 defines workplace bullying where:

  • An individual or group of individuals;

  • Repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards the worker or group of workers; and

  • That behaviour creates a risk to health and safety

Bullying can be carried out by one person or by a group of people. In order to be “repeated” behaviour, it must occur more than once. The behaviour does not have to be of the same kind, as it can be a range of behaviours. The behaviour must create a risk to health and safety; in other words, it does not have to result in actual injury, loss or damage.

Examples of bullying behaviours include:

  • Belittling or humiliating comments;

  • Exclusion from work-related events; and

  • Unreasonable work expectations.

What is not workplace bullying?

“Reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner” is not bullying. It can be common for employers to receive a bullying complaint by an employee following a performance review issue. To reduce this risk, it is important to follow your business’ performance review policy.

When a complaint is made

If you receive a bullying complaint from a worker, you should follow your workplace bullying policy to ensure that procedural fairness is given to the parties involved. Check that you have all of the required evidence in hand before making any disciplinary decisions against the alleged bully, as employees can be (understandably) reluctant to provide written evidence to support allegations of bullying. We also recommend that you:

  • Take the complaint seriously;

  • Promptly respond to the complainant and outline the investigation process that will be followed;

  • Give the person accused of the bullying behaviour a full opportunity to respond to the allegation(s);

  • Inform the parties to the complaint of their rights during the investigation process (for example, the right to having a support person present during meetings);

  • Seek external advice from human resources and/or employment lawyers as required, especially if it is likely that disciplinary action is required; and

  • Keep parties informed of the progress of the matter and the outcome of the investigation.

Takeaway message

If not dealt with properly, workplace bullying can affect the whole culture of the workplace. It is your responsibility as the employer to take bullying complaints seriously and to implement your bullying policy. To minimise the risk of bullying complaints arising from performance management, it is important that you adhere to your performance review policy.

Need help?

If you require assistance with managing a bully in your workplace or resolving a workplace bullying complaint, please contact us on 02 4929 2000 or at

This article is intended to be informational and is not to be taken to be legal advice or to be relied upon.


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