Bullying is a hazard as it may affect the emotional, mental and physical health of workers.

The WHS Act defines ‘health’ as both physical and psychological health. Therefore the duties imposed under the WHS Act to ensure health and safety also includes ensuring the emotional and mental health of workers.

In some workplaces, workers may feel that they are the subject of bullying, harassment and discrimination and it may be a misunderstanding of what bullying, harassment and discrimination is that leads to dissatisfaction within the workplace.  To assist in clarifying, we are going to detail the differences. The risk of bullying is minimised in workplaces where everyone treats each other with dignity and respect.

Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.

‘Repeated behaviour’ refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour and can refer to a range of behaviours over time.

‘Unreasonable behaviour’ means behaviour that a reasonable person, having regard for the circumstances, would see as victimising, humiliating, undermining or threatening.

Impact of workplace bullying

Bullying can be harmful for the workers who experience it and those who witness it. Each individual will react differently to bullying and in response to different situations. Reactions may include any combination of the following:

  • Distress, anxiety, panic attacks or sleep disturbance
  • Physical illness, such as muscular tension, headaches and digestive problems
  • Reduced work performance
  • Loss of self-esteem and feelings of isolation
  • Deteriorating relationships with colleagues, family and friends
  • Depression and risk of suicide.

Those persons who witness bullying may experience guilt and fear because they cannot help or support the affected person in case they too get bullied. Witnesses may feel angry, unhappy or stressed with the workplace and may become unmotivated to work.

Bullying can also damage organisations. It can lead to:

  • High staff turnover and associated recruitment and training costs
  • Low morale and motivation
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Lost productivity
  • Disruption to work when complex complaints are being investigated, and
  • Costly workers’ compensation claims or legal action.

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