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Regulation

Addressing discrimination, bullying and harassment in your organisation

Discrimination, bullying and harassment at work is unlawful and can be extremely damaging to employee mental health.

In Australia, there are national anti-bullying laws and state or territory health and safety bodies that assist people with bullying and harassment in the workplace. The negative physical and mental health consequences for people who are discriminated against, bullied or harassed are well known – and are thus governed in Australia by Fair Work Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission. If workplace bullying or harassment is violent or threatening, it can even become a matter dealt with by the police.

It is helpful to understand each of these constructs, and the rights of employees and the responsibilities of employers.

Discrimination

Discrimination occurs in the workplace when an employer takes adverse action against an employee or prospective employee because of a protected attribute (Fair Work Australia). This can be related to attributes such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy or religion.

Bullying and Harassment

A worker is bullied at work if:

  • a person or group of people repeatedly act unreasonably towards them or a group of workers,
  • the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Unreasonable behaviour includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening. Whether a behaviour is unreasonable can depend on whether a reasonable person might see the behaviour as unreasonable in the circumstances.1

It is important to note that whilst unlawful all over Australia, bullying provisions can vary by state and territory and it is important that you check with your state and territory health and safety body for the most recent information:

The bullying page of SafeWork Australia’s website has links to all relevant bodies.

Further reading

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Workplace Discrimination, Bullying and Harassment guide contains further useful information on each.

Protecting your employees from discrimination, bullying and harassment

It is essential that your organisation has a policy – read and signed off periodically by all employees – that details the definitions for discrimination, bullying and harassment, the process for making a complaint, and a commitment that the organisation takes complaints seriously and protects informants from retribution or adverse action. In the resources section below, a template policy can be found.

Resource

Discrimination, bullying and harassment policy template

The Australian Human Rights Commission has developed a template that organisations can use to formulate their discrimination, bullying and harassment policy to comply with relevant legislation.

References

  1. Fair Work Ombudsman. Bullying and harassment. Retrieved from https://www.fairwork.gov.au/employee-entitlements/bullying-and-harassment