Key messages

  • Victorian employers have a legal obligation under Victorian and some Commonwealth laws to control inappropriate behaviour.
  • Managers have a role to ensure the right policies and procedures are in place to prevent, identify and act on inappropropriate behaviour.
  • Systems should be in place to prevent and reduce the risk of bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Victorian workplace bullying and harassment laws

Bullying and harassment can be prevented or minimised by taking appropriate measures including

  • Implementing and promoting workplace bullying policies and procedures,
  • Monitoring the health and safety of workers,
  • Monitoring conditions at the workplace and providing appropriate information, instruction, training and supervision.

Victorian employers have a legal obligation under Victorian and some Commonwealth laws to control inappropriate behaviour.

Relevant legislation

  • Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic)

    Under this act, employers have responsibilities to provide fair and safe working conditions. A breach of the Occupational Health and Safety Act can occur when:

    • It has created a risk to an employee’s (or another person’s) health and safety, and the employer has failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to prevent and address it.
    • An employee has acted in a way that fails to take reasonable care for the health and safety of others at work.
  • Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)
    Brodie’s Law made serious bullying a criminal offence by extending the application of the stalking provisions in the Crimes Act 1958, to include behaviour that involves serious bullying. The offence of stalking, and therefore conduct that amounts to serious bullying, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.
  • Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic)
    The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) makes discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation against the law in many areas of public life, such as employment, education, accommodation, and providing goods and services.
  • Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)
    The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) provides a framework for workplace relations and includes provisions allowing an employee who has been bullied at work to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying.
  • Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013
    Injury or ill-health due to workplace bullying may become the subject of WorkCover claims through the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 or common law. This Act also prohibits unreasonably discriminating against someone because of a workplace injury.
  • Other legislation
    • Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986
    • Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012
    • Privacy Act 1988
    • Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001
  • Further information on these Acts, and others, can be found by visiting the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission website.

Managers' responses to inappropriate behaviour

If a manager witnesses bullying, harassment or inappropriate behaviour, or receives an allegation from an employee, they should immediately and discreetly raise this in their workplace according to the processes and policies in place, and make a time to discuss in further detail with the individual whose behaviour wasn’t acceptable. 

If a report of bullying, harassment or inappropriate behaviour has been made, the manager should respond in a timely manner according to the organisation’s policies and procedures. 

It’s important that managers are compassionate, understanding, listen, take allegations seriously and make a record of actions being taken. Workplaces should provide information and training to managers about how to deal with inappropriate behaviour and when to escalate issues. 

Even if a matter goes on to be managed by Human Resources, managers should keep in mind their responsibilities to:

  • treat all matters seriously;
  • maintain confidentiality, impartiality and fairness;
  • speak to all relevant parties; and
  • inform relevant parties of the outcomes, while maintaining confidentiality.

Systems to prevent and reduce the risk of bullying and harassment in the workplace

To prevent and reduce the risk of bullying and harassment in the workplace, organisations should:

 

  • Have a workplace policy
    Ensure your health service sets out the standard of behaviour that needs to be followed. Make sure to consult with your employees to develop the policy and also promote it through notice boards, team meetings, via the intranet and during training.
  • Encourage reporting
    It’s important to communicate to staff that all complaints of bullying or harassment will be taken seriously, treated with respect and acted on appropriately. This builds trust and confidence in the system. All staff should be trained in acceptable behaviours and know how to make reports, and be encouraged to do so.
  • Have a workplace procedure
    Different to a workplace policy, this procedure should document how your organisation will respond to a workplace bullying incident. Processes for managing incidents should be transparent and based on best practice.
  • Offer information about workplace behaviour policies to new employees
    Employers and managers should ensure information about appropriate workplace behaviour, including any relevant policies and procedures, is included in new employee inductions.
  • Conduct training
    Employers should train employees in relevant workplace behaviour policies and what acceptable and unacceptable behaviours are, including bullying and harassment. This should focus on how staff and leaders can create a positive workplace culture. 
  • Ensure managers are trained

    Leaders and managers should undertake training on bullying and harassment and other topics such as leadership. This training should ensure managers take reports of bullying and harassment seriously and are addressed sensitively, fairly, promptly and in a manner consistent to the organisation’s policies and procedures.

    Training programs should be consistent with the department’s training principles.

  • Monitor and review

    It is not enough for an employer to simply establish a safe system of work – they must also maintain the system and ensure it is complied with. Monitoring can be done through regular scheduled discussions at management, staff and board meetings, and executive walk-arounds.

    A comprehensive framework outlining ways to create and build a safe and positive workplace culture is also available. 

Promoting a positive culture in your workplace

The Department of Health and Human Services has developed a comprehensive framework for promoting a positive workplace culture in health services.

The framework is based on seven core principles to help workplaces, leaders and staff understand what they can do to contribute to a positive working environment. The framework recommends:

  • Leaders demonstrate commitment to identify and respond to inappropriate behaviour.
  • The organisation and staff understand and manage risks relating to culture and inappropriate behaviour, including bullying, harassment and discrimination.
  • Safe systems of work are in place that reduce risks to health and safety associated with inappropriate behaviour, including bullying, harassment and discrimination, and that promote staff wellbeing.
  • The organisation has effective mechanisms for the management of people.
  • Staff access appropriate, consistent and effective training.
  • Workplace relationships are respectful and built on trust.
  • The organisation embraces diversity and is committed to inclusion.

Further information and advice on what you can do in your workplace to address these core principles can be found by reviewing the framework.

Reporting bullying or harassment to your employer

If you report bullying or harassment, you should expect:

  • your employer to take your complaint seriously and to treat you with respect and listen;
  • access to clear policies and procedures the organisation’s complaints management procedure including investigation and response to any allegations of bullying or harassment (usually on the organisation’s internal website);
  • support from your manager, who should know their role and responsibilities when staff report bullying allegations to them;
  • your allegation to be treated with confidentiality.

If a matter ends up being formally investigated, it should be examined impartially, involve identifying and speaking to relevant parties, assessing reports on their merits and facts and allow for sufficient time.

At the end of an investigation, the person making the complaint should be advised of what action (if any) their employer proposes to take. If a person is aware that a complaint has been made against them, that person should also be advised of the proposed action and be given an opportunity to respond to it.