Workplace Bullying

Approving Authority:
Vice Chancellor's Advisory Committee
Date of Approval:
21 March 2001
Last Amended:
December 2003
Contact Officer:
Industrial Relations Advisory Unit

The University of New South Wales is committed to providing a workplace that is free from bullying. Working relationships and standards of behaviour between staff are important workplace issues. The UNSW Code of Conduct, endorsed by the University Council, sets out principles for behaviour required in the workplace, including that:
  • all people should be treated with respect; and
  • all staff should develop an awareness about the impact of their behaviour on others.
Further, the University considers it to be a fundamental obligation of all employees to behave appropriately in the workplace.
The University considers that bullying in the workplace is inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour, and that staff found to have either committed or condoned such behaviour in the workplace may be subject to disciplinary action.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is defined as the repeated less favourable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate in workplace practice. It includes behaviour that could be expected to intimidate, offend, degrade, humiliate undermine or threaten.
Bullying is physical or psychological behaviour or conduct where strength (including strength of personality) and/or a position of power is misused by a person in a position of authority or by a person who perceives that they are in a position of power or authority.
Bullying is normally associated with an ongoing systematic pattern of behaviour. An isolated incident of behaviour is not considered bullying, but may of course lead to action being taken against the perpetrator based on that single incident.
Bullying may be perpetrated by an individual who may be a work colleague, a supervisor, a more senior manager or a person who reports to the individual subject to the alleged bullying. A bully is equally likely to be male or female.
Bullying may be overt or covert.
Overt Bullying
Examples of overt bullying may include:
  • abusive behaviour towards another employee such as threatening gestures or actual violence
  • aggressive or abusive or offensive language, including threats or shouting
  • demeaning remarks
  • constant unreasonable and unconstructive criticism
Covert Bullying
Examples of covert bullying may include:
  • deliberate exclusion, isolation or alienation of the employee from normal work interaction, such as intentionally excluding the employee from meetings
  • placing unreasonably high work demands on one employee but not on others
  • allocation of demeaning jobs or meaningless tasks only
  • unreasonably ignoring the employee
  • undermining another employee, including encouraging others to "gang up" on the employee
  • deliberately withholding information that a person needs to exercise her or his role or entitlements within the University
  • repeated refusal of requests for leave or training without adequate explanation and suggestion of alternatives.
Providing guidance, conducting performance counselling, invoking unsatisfactory performance procedures or misconduct procedures does not in itself constitute bullying. Supervisors and managers are expected to offer constructive advice and comment as part of their role in a way that does not demean or humiliate.
Effects of bullying
Bullying in the workplace can result in absenteeism, reduced staff productivity and motivation, and loss of experienced and skilled staff through resignation. Bullying may also have significant social and health costs for individual staff, including loss of confidence, increased anxiety, depression, loss of sleep, headaches and increased blood pressure. Bullying can also affect others in the workplace in a similar way, even when they are only witnesses to the bullying and are not subject to the bullying themselves.
In addition to productivity and staff turnover issues, bullying has a seriously negative effect on the University through both management time in dealing with the problem and potential legal implications.
Responsibilities of Staff
Staff have a responsibility to ensure that their actions do not negatively affect another staff member's career, health or well-being and are consistent with the University Code of Conduct. This includes not condoning bullying by failing to do anything about it, such as raising the matter with the bully or with a supervisor.
A staff member found to have bullied another staff member or to have condoned workplace bullying may be subject to disciplinary action.
Ideally, staff should attempt to resolve issues of workplace bullying at the local level by:
  • Raising the issue directly with the person they believe is responsible for bullying. Often, an informal approach can quickly resolve an instance of workplace bullying; or
  • Involving his or her supervisor.
If the issue is not resolved in this way, an employee may:
  • Raise the matter with another relevant manager;
  • Lodge a formal complaint in accordance with the University's Staff Complaint Procedure. The policy is available at
  • Seek advice from Human Resources;
  • Seek the assistance of the University's Employee Assistance Program (EAP), information on which can be found at;
  • Seek advice from their union if he/she is a union member.
Responsibilities of Supervisors
Supervisors have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment that enables staff to carry out their work responsibilities free from bullying. This includes investigating complaints of bullying expeditiously, thoroughly and in accordance with due process. Supervisors should be fully aware of the adverse consequences of not dealing with instances of bullying as outlined above.
Supervisors should be alert to the possibility of workplace bullying and should monitor key indicators such as workplace culture factors, high absenteeism and high staff turnover.
Supervisors are encouraged to identify training needs for themselves and their staff. It is recommended that supervisors seek advice from the Industrial Relations Unit (x1710) when dealing with actual or potential workplace bullying. Supervisors may also access the University's Employee Assistance Program in dealing with cases of bullying in the workplace.