Steps for employers to prevent and respond to bullying

What employers can do to address bullying at work.

Preventing bullying

As an employer, you should provide clear guidelines for your workers about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour, as well as processes of how  you will deal with these behaviours.

You should make sure that all workers are aware of processes, guidelines and policies.  Policies should include well-defined standards of expected behaviour at work, and promote a healthy and respectful culture.

WorkSafe has tools to assist employers to assess the risks of bullying at work and develop a policy to suit their culture.

Bullying: Workplace assessment form (external link)

Anti-bullying policy template (external link)

You should monitor their workplace culture and constantly review your policies to make sure they continue to be effective in preventing bullying. This can be done in a number of ways depending on the business, such as:

  • reviewing formal and informal complaints
  • interviews for workers that are leaving (‘exist interviews’)
  • feedback from worker surveys and people outside the organisation. 

Workers can help prevent bullying by being clear about what kind of behaviour is appropriate and what is not.

Workers can also help by contributing positively to workplace culture, and by calling out poor behaviour directed towards themselves or others. 

Responding to bullying

When a formal complaint of bullying is raised, you should treat the complaint seriously and investigate it properly. Investigations should be impartial and fair to all parties involved, and all parties should be informed of the process and kept up to date. 

Some serious cases of bullying could be criminal offences and may be referred to the Police. You should keep the investigation as confidential as possible.

You should provide workers with support throughout an investigation, including those who are experiencing and those accused of bullying. This support could include help understanding the process, providing external counselling, and language and cultural support as needed.

You should also consider what is needed to ensure you are keeping the workplace safe for the complainant while investigations are ongoing. If the complainant and the person who has been complained about work closely, you may decide to have them work in different locations while you investigate. If the matter is serious, you could also suspend the person being complained about.

After an investigation

If after the investigation you decide that bullying did not occur, you might still choose to remind people in your workplace what type of behaviour is acceptable and unacceptable.

If you decide that bullying did occur, you:

  • may take disciplinary action against the person who bullied
  • should continue to support the worker that made the complaint
  • should consider whether your workplace policies adequately cover bullying behaviours
  • should also consider the culture of the area where bullying occurred. If the behaviour could be seen as acceptable in that area, you may need to take further steps to change the culture. This could include the training of managers and workers in what sort of behaviour is acceptable or unacceptable. You could consult with the complainant on any changes proposed to be put in place.
  • should try to stop these behaviours from happening again.

If you are the employer that is accused of bullying, you must make sure the investigation is done by an independent party and not by someone who reports to you.

Bullying at work: Advice for small businesses - Worksafe (external link)  

Guide: Preventing and responding to bullying at work - Worksafe (external link)  

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Page last revised: 07 October 2020

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