Are you being bullied at work? The following fact sheet tells you where you can get help and how the law can protect you.

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This fact sheet is about bullying at work. For information on bullying, see our factsheets on ‘Bullying at School’ and ‘Sexting and Cyberbullying’. This information sheet details laws in Victoria as at January 2013.

Disclaimer: The material in this fact sheet is intended as a general guide only. You should not act on the basis of this information in this fact sheet without first getting legal advice about your own particular situation.

What is Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying is when you are bullied by coworkers, your boss or someone else in your workplace. It can happen at work, at a work function or even outside of work hours. Workplace bullying includes when someone does something like:

  • tease or humiliate you
  • spread nasty rumours about you
  • unfairly discipline you
  • treat you worse than everyone else
  • yell at you or swear at you
  • continually follow you around
  • call, email, text or message you online unnecessarily or inappropriately
  • damage, hide or steal your property
  • threaten you or make you feel scared
  • hit you, push you or be violent towards you
  • talk to you or send you messages, items or images that are sexual and that make you feel uncomfortable
  • kiss or touch you when you don’t want them to

Speak to someone

Being bullied can make you feel miserable and it can lead to mental health problems like anxiety or depression. Get support as soon as possible. Talk to someone you trust like a family member, friend or a counsellor. You can get 24-hour free and confidential counselling and support by calling:

Kids Helpline (for young people age 5-25)

Phone: 1800 551 800 

Website: www.kidshelp.com.au

Lifeline

Phone: 13 11 14 

Website: www.lifeline.com.au

Making a complaint

If you are being bullied, you should take notes or keep a diary detailing what happened, when it happened (dates and times) and if there were any witnesses. Try to keep any bullying text messages or emails in your phone or in your inbox as evidence.

Make a complaint to your employer

It is your employer’s responsibility to protect you from bullying in the workplace. Your employer should do something to stop the bullying if it is affecting your health and wellbeing.

If your workplace has a policy on how to make a complaint about bullying, you should follow any procedures set out in that policy.

If your workplace does not have a policy on bullying complaints, you should make a complaint to your supervisor, your manager, your human resources manager or your occupational health and safety representative.

For more information on how to make a workplace bullying complaint, go to the WorkSafe Advisory Service website at www.worksafe.vic.gov.au.

What if I am being discriminated against?

Bullying in the workplace might also be discrimination if you are treated unfairly because of your gender, sexuality, race, religion, disability or other personal characteristic. For more information about discrimination in the workplace, go to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission or the Australian Human Rights Commission websites at:

www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au

www.humanrights.gov.au.

If you have been discriminated against in your workplace , you should seek legal advice (see below).

What if I am being sexually harassed?

Sexual behaviour in the workplace that makes you feel offended, humiliated or intimidated is a form of workplace bullying and it is also a form of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can include:

  • comments about your private life or the way you look
  • leering or staring at you in a sexual way
  • touching you or hugging you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable
  • making sexual comments or jokes
  • showing you or displaying offensive sexual images in the workplace (e.g. screen savers or calendars)
  • sending you sexual emails, text messages or posts via social networking sites
  • repeatedly asking you out on dates
  • asking you for sex

If you have been sexually harassed in your workplace, you should seek legal advice (see below).

What if I get bullied even more for making a complaint about discrimination or sexual harassment?

You have every right to make a complaint about discrimination or sexual harassment in your workplace. Your employer has a legal duty to make sure you are not ‘victimised’ in your workplace for making a complaint about discrimination or a sexual harassment or for supporting someone else to make a complaint.

Victimisation for making a complaint can include things like:

  • being fired
  • being refused further contract work
  • being bullied or intimidated by coworkers or your employer
  • being denied a promotion or demoted to a position with less pay or responsibility

If you are victimised at work for making a complaint about discrimination or a sexual harassment or supporting someone else to make a complaint, you should seek legal advice (see below).

What if workplace bullying makes me feel unsafe or leads to mental health problems?

If you are concerned workplace bullying may lead to you being harmed physically or psychologically, you should report to Worksafe (www.worksafe.vic.gov.au) on 1800 136 089.

If workplace bullying has already lead to you being harmed physically or psychologically, you may be eligible for workers compensation. Caution: strict time limits may apply when reporting a workplace injury or taking court action for workers compensation. For a referral to a workers compensation lawyer, contact the Law Institute of Victoria on (03) 9607 9550 or www.liv.asn.au.

What if I have had to quit or have been fired because of bullying?

You may be able to make a claim for unlawful termination or unfair dismissal under employment laws.

For more information, go to the Fair Work Commission website at www.fwc.gov.au or Jobwatch at www.jobwatch.asn.au.

Caution: a time limit of 21 days now applies for claims of unfair dismissal or unlawful termination.

If you had to quit your job or you were fired because of workplace bullying, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible (see below).

How can I protect myself?

Can I apply for an intervention order?

If workplace bullying makes you feel threatened or unsafe, you can apply for an intervention order in the Magistrates Court or the Children’s Court if the person bullying you is under 18. If you want to take this option, you should speak to a lawyer first (see below).

Is an intervention order the best option?

If you feel safe, you can try mediation instead of applying for an intervention order. Mediation is usually less stressful and less costly but it is voluntary, so both parties would need to agree to try mediation.

To find out more about mediation, contact the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria on 1800 658 528 or go to www.disputes.vic.gov.au

When should I report bullying to the police?

Some bullying behaviour can be a criminal offence, including:

  • repeatedly bullying someone if it is likely to cause that person physical or mental harm, including self-harm
  • assault or sexual assault
  • threats to kill or harm someone
  • property damage or theft

You can contact police about criminal bullying behaviour. Police can then investigate and charge the person responsible in court.

Resources and Important Contacts

Worksafe

For more information about workplace safety, claiming compensation for a workplace injury or workplace bullying or to report safety issues in your workplace.

Phone: (03) 9641 1444 or 1800 136 089 (toll free) 

Website: www.worksafe.vic.gov.au

Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission

For more information or to make a complaint about discrimination, sexual harassment or victimisation in the workplace.

Phone: 1300 292 153 

Website: www.humanrightscomission.vic.gov.au

Australian Human Rights Commission

For more information or to make a complaint about discrimination, sexual harassment or victimisation in the workplace.

Phone: 1300 656 419 or (02) 9284 9888 

Website: www.humanrights.gov.au

Fair Work Ombudsman

For information about workplace entitlements or to make a complaint about pay conditions, unpaid wages or bullying in the workplace.

Phone: 13 13 94 

Website: www.fairwork.gov.au

Fair Work Commission

For more information about unfair dismissal or unlawful termination and to make a complaint.

Phone: (03) 8661 7777 

Website: www.fwa.gov.au

Getting legal help

Youthlaw

If you are under 25, you can get free and confidential legal advice.

Phone(03) 9611 2412 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri) 

Website: www.youthlaw.asn.au

Victoria Legal Aid – Legal Help

For legal information, referrals or appointments.

Phone: (03) 9269 0120 or 1800 677 402 (country) 

Website: www.legalaid.vic.gov.au

Jobwatch

For legal information about employment law including making a complaint about unfair dismissal or unlawful termination.

Phone: (03) 9662 1933 or 1800 331 617 (country) 

Website: www.jobwatch.org.au

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