Home - What is the difference between workplace bullying and harassment?

UpdatesSep 13, 2017

What is the difference between workplace bullying and harassment?

Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable and unwelcome behaviour directed towards an employee or group of employees that creates a risk to health and safety.

5 mins read

[Ed note: Often employers treat bullying and harassment as the same class of problematic behaviour that arises in the workplace. However, because the law relating to each of these areas is different, the approaches you take to prevent these behaviours should also differ. Charles Power explains the difference between workplace bullying and harassment and outlines what you need to do to prevent them in your workplace.]

What is bullying?

Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable and unwelcome behaviour directed towards an employee or group of employees that creates a risk to health and safety.

Bullying is a health and safety issue, and your obligation to prevent bullying relates to your duty as an employer to provide a safe workplace for your employees. You can be investigated and prosecuted by your State regulator for a breach of health and safety legislation if you allow bullying to occur in your workplace.

Employees are also be able to complain to the Fair Work Commission about workplace bullying to receive an order to stop the bullying.

What is harassment?

Workplace harassment is unwanted behaviour that offends, humiliates or intimidates a person, and targets them on the basis of a characteristic such as gender, race or ethnicity.

Harassment relates to the prohibition in anti-discrimination laws against sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination in the workplace. These laws differ from health and safety laws in that a victim of harassment can make a complaint to an external agency – in effect, launching a legal proceeding against your company.

What you need to do…

You need to create and implement bullying and harassment policies.

The focus of your bullying policy should be to prevent bullying behaviour and to act immediately when a report or complaint of bullying arises to eliminate the source of the bullying.

Even if a victim of bullying does not wish to make a complaint, your workplace health and safety obligations as an employer may require you to investigate the issue and make findings about the behaviour to ensure that it does not occur again.

The focus of any policy and procedure dealing with harassment should provide effective resolution of the complaint from the perspective of the complainant, and ideally prevent the employment relationship from breaking down.

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