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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Workplace Bullying (Qld)


Workplace bullying can seriously harm the mental health of employees and lead to penalties for employers. This article looks at the Queensland and national laws related to workplace bullying.

What is workplace bullying?

The Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009 states a person is bullied at work if a person or group repeatedly behaves unreasonable towards the worker or the worker’s group, and the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety

Unreasonable behaviour is behaviour that a reasonable person in the circumstances would consider to be unreasonable. This includes behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening.

Bullying, whether intentional or unintentional, includes:

  • abusive, insulting, belittling or offensive language or comments;
  • unjustified criticism or complaints;
  • deliberate exclusion from workplace activities;
  • withholding information or resources needed to work effectively;
  • setting unrealistic timelines or constantly changing timelines;
  • setting tasks unreasonable below a worker’s skill level;
  • spreading misinformation or malicious rumours;
  • changing rosters or leave to deliberately inconvenience a worker.

Work Health and Safety Act 2011

Under this Act, a workplace has a duty to ensure workers are not exposed to health and safety risks as a result of work carried out for the business. This includes the prevention and responding to workplace bullying. A workplace should:

  • respond to a bullying complaint quickly and reasonable in line with workplace policies and procedures;
  • treat all bullying complaints seriously;
  • maintain confidentiality;
  • keep the complainant informed of progress in attempting to resolve the matter;
  • advise of support options;
  • communicate the outcome, the reasons for it, and any right of review.

All workers who experience workplace bullying must attempt to resolve the grievance with their employer before taking legal action.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland

This division of the Office of Industrial Relations is responsible for administering the Act. If an employer fails to act on a bullying complaint, a complaint can also be lodged with this agency, which has the power to penalise breaches of the Act and take remedial action. Action is taken by the agency on behalf of the employee so the employee is not responsible for the costs Proceedings do not normally result in compensation.

Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC)

A non-government employee can apply to the QIRC for an order to stop bullying. An “employee” includes a former employee, an outworker, an apprentice and a trainee.

The QIRC must start to deal with an application within 14 days of receiving it. It can make any order it considers appropriate to stop bullying if it is satisfied the employee has been bullied and there is a risk the employee will continue to be bullied. In forming the order, it must consider:

  • any interim or final outcomes from any investigation into the matter by another body;
  • any procedure available to the employee to resolve grievances and disputes, and any interim or final outcomes from that procedure.

The QIRC cannot issue penalties or award compensation, but an QIRC order does not prevent a bullied person from seeking and being awarded compensation.

Fair Work Commission (FWC)

The Fair Work Act 2009 allows a non-government worker who has been bullied at work to apply to the commission for an order to stop the bullying.

“Worker” means a person who performs work in any capacity, including an employee, contractor, subcontractor, outworker, apprentice, trainee student on work experience, or volunteer.

The FWC must start to deal with an application within 14 days of receiving it. It can make any order it considers appropriate to stop bullying if it is satisfied the worker has been bullied and there is a risk the worker will continue to be bullied. In forming the order, it must consider:

  • any interim or final outcomes from any investigation into the matter by another body;
  • any procedure available to the worker to resolve grievances and disputes, and any interim or final outcomes from that procedure.

FWC cannot issue penalties or award compensation, but an FWC order does not prevent a bullied person from seeking and being awarded compensation.

Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

The AHRC can investigate and resolve complaints of bullying that are based on a person’s sex, disability, race or age, as well as other characteristics such as a person’s criminal record, trade union activity, political preference or religion.

Compensation

Under the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003, an injury for which compensation may be payable includes the aggravation of a psychological or psychiatric disorder. Such injury arising from bullying can be compensable, but the aggravation must arise out of or in the course of employment.

A person being bullied in the workplace must seek medical attention. A doctor may be able to issue a medical certificate to an employee who is seeking paid leave as a result of bullying and who is wanting to lodge a claim for workers’ compensation under the Act.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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