Bullying and harassment

What is bullying and harassment?

Bullying and harassment are often thought of separately; however both involve a more powerful person or group oppressing a less powerful person or group, often on the grounds of ‘difference’.

These differences can be related to culture, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, ability or disability, religion, body size and physical appearance, age, marital status or economic status.


  • Bullying is a form of workplace harassment that many employers and employees face. Examples of bullying behaviour include unfair and excessive criticism, publicly insulting victims, ignoring their point of view, constantly changing or setting unrealistic work targets and undervaluing their efforts at work, or culturally insensitivity.


  • Harassment is unwelcome conduct that humiliates, offends or intimidates people. Harassment is bullying conduct that is neither appropriate nor relevant to work. This includes words as well as acts, pictures and images, manifest attitudes and a hostile or threatening atmosphere. The effect is to make a person feel insulted, offended, intimidated and unable to work effectively or, ultimately safely.

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Bad for business

People learn best in a supportive environment. Bullying and harassment of apprentices or trainees will hinder their progress in learning valuable work skills which will in turn make them a less able to make a positive contribution to the business’s bottom line.

Your responsibility

  • As an employer you may be liable for the actions of employees if you have not taken reasonable actions to prevent bullying or harassment, or respond to any complaint.
  • Reasonable actions can include acting on bullying or harassment issues, implementing policies and procedures and training programs for all staff.

What to do to prevent bullying or harassment

  • The first step in prevention is to acknowledge that bullying and harassment can occur in any workplace.
  • The most effective way to prevent bullying and harassment is for you to send a clear message to all employees that workplace bullying is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
  • The anti-bullying and harassment message can be incorporated into your business’s employee handbook, your new employee’s induction session, and should be reinforced periodically by reminders for all employees.
  • Many businesses issue a Code of Conduct for all employees, this can include your policy on bullying and harassment.
  • An excellent guide in preventing workplace bullying can be found on this Workcover web page.

If bullying and harassment occurs

  • Act immediately to deal with the problem, call a meeting in a quiet confidential place and clearly explain to the participants that bullying and harassment is a serious matter and is not tolerated in your organisation.
  • Follow organisational procedures, remain completely professional, stay calm, take notes of the discussion and record the agreement reached.
  • If the problem is not resolved you should immediately contact your local State Training Service office and request assistance.

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Who can give you help and advice?

Page last updated: 07 April 2016