What Is Workplace Bullying? Know Your Rights

Everybody deserves to feel safe at work but, when confronted with a workplace bully that situation can quickly turn on it’s head.

Your employer has a legal obligation to prevent bullying from happening at work but there is still a lot of confusion about what exactly bullying is. Do you have a bully at work or do you have someone with a different sense of humour to you? Where is the line between creative differences and someone who disagrees with anything and everything you say for sport? 

Obviously there is a difference between those situations. With that in mind we have put together this guide so you can know what is workplace bullying, what is harassment and what is discrimination. Knowing what these terms, and the differences, means can give you an advantage when trying to put an end to them.

What is Workplace Bullying?

In short, bullying is where someone hurts, embarrasses, intimidates or threatens another person or a group of people.

Workplace bullying just means that these behaviours occur at the workplace or with people you work with. Just because it is called workplace bullying doesn’t mean it has to happen in the office. Bullying can also occur online via emails, text messages, and phone calls. It can even happen away from work if co-workers are organising after work drinks or celebrations and excluding you.

Other forms of workplace bullying may include:

  • Abusive or offensive language
  • Name calling
  • Derogatory comments
  • Aggressive and intimidating behaviour
  • Unjustified criticism and complaints
  • Hazing, cruel or excessive initiations, and practical jokes
  • Social isolation and cliques
  • Unwanted physical touching and sexual harassment
  • Withholding information or details that would prevent someone from doing their job properly
  • Deliberately excluding people from activities
  • Setting unreasonable timelines or deadlines to accomplish a task
  • Spreading rumours about people
  • Purposely assigning people duties far below or above their abilities

How Bullying Affects You

Bullying can affect people in different ways depending on an individual’s resilience and the bully or bullies’ methods. You may experience some types more than others. Whatever your situation, bullying will affect you and can do serious damage if left unchecked.

the impact workplace bullying can have on people affected by it

It’s Not Your Fault

One of the most common aspects of bullying is the bully and the victim rationalising the behaviour. The bully may tell you that you deserve this treatment because of the way you act/dress/talk/work etc. Victims, on the other hand, sometimes tell themselves that they brought this upon themselves or that it’s a necessary step in order to progress their career.

Whatever happens, remember that being bullied is never the victim’s fault. If someone is repeatedly treating you unfairly, that is their problem – not yours. 

What isn’t Bullying?

Sometimes you slip up at work. Maybe you are having trouble with a certain aspect or have been neglecting some of your duties. Getting negative feedback or a poor performance review from your boss usually doesn’t constitute bullying. If your manager is doing reasonable things in a reasonable way then it is unlikely to be deemed workplace bullying.

This isn’t to say that supervisors can’t bully you. Of course they can, and many do, unfortunately. If you think that you are being treated unfairly or that your boss is really emphasising the criticism part of constructive criticism then they could be bullying you.

Similarly, you can disagree with people at work. You might have an opinion on how something is done and believe that their way of doing it is wrong. Having a disagreement, even one that might become an argument, is also not necessarily bullying. However, if this is happening then your manager should step in to prevent this from becoming a regular occurance.

Bullying vs Discrimination

Discrimination adversely affects people because of their gender; physical or mental disabilities including ill mental health, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or nationality, or religion. People who are discriminated against in the workplace may be denied employment opportunities or demoted.

Discrimination based on your criminal record is actually only protected by law in Tasmania and the Northern Territory. In contrast, all other states and territories refer to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

Bullying differs from discrimination in that the behaviour doesn’t have to relate to one of these categories (although it might) and adverse action (fired, not hired, etc.) doesn’t have to occur. Unlike bullying which takes place over a number of instances, discrimination can be a one-off incident. 

Bullying vs Harassment

Harassment is similar to bullying in that it humiliates, belittles, or treats someone less favourably than others. Like discrimination, harassment can be a one-off thing. Harassment in the workplace can consist of a number of things including:

  • Sending explicit images or text messages to co-workers
  • Telling racist or sexist jokes at work
  • Making offensive comments about a co-worker’s disability
  • Asking intrusive, personal questions such as about your boss’ sex life

There are laws in place to protect people from workplace discrimination such as the the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Sexual Discrimination Act 1974, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

Racial harassment is behaviour that is based on racial hatred. This is defined as something done in public that humiliates, offends, or insults a person or group of people based on their race, nationality, colour, or ethnicity.

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome behaviour that is sexual in nature that a reasonable person would expect to offend, humiliate, or intimidate the harassed person.

Disability harassment is harassment in the workplace that based on or linked to someone’s disability or the disability of an associate.

People who resort to workplace bullying may also be guilty of harassment or discrimination.

There’s No Place for It

No matter who you are, where you work, or what you do – there is no place for harassment, bullying, or discrimination at work. If you feel like you have treated unfairly in anyway, it’s important that you take the correct steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Always remember that the sooner you take action, the sooner you can resolve the the issues.

That’s why it’s so important for you not to wait for somebody else to stop it. Even if you have sympathetic and understanding managers. If you want to stop a bully at work, you will need to start the ball rolling yourself.

Have Your Say

Have you ever encountered any situations like this? How did you handle it?

If you are currently experiencing bullying and are feeling stressed out or under pressure it’s can be good to talk to a professional about what’s happening. They can offer support and give you more personalised help about your situation.

Lifeline: Call 13 11 14

beyondblue: Call 1300 22 4636

Leave a Comment