Chapter 5 Enhancing tools for the prevention and resolution of workplace
The only way I can see us overcoming [bullying at work] is
really for employers to have more tools at their side.
It is about empowering not only the workforce and the people
on the job but also the organisational management and structure. [It is] about
looking at preventative measures. Let's do the hard work upfront so workplace
bullying will not be played out. 
Moving beyond workplace bullying ensures that work is not
just balanced with life, but enriches and fulfils it.
All Australians should be able to go to work and return home without
being harmed, physically or psychologically. The psychosocial health of working
Australians has been the subject of significant national attention in the past
year. A national discussion about workplace bullying has been fuelled by recent
media coverage of horrific examples of bullying and violence at work.
Australia should use this current momentum to improve the national
‘skills-set’ to respond to workplace bullying. Participants in the inquiry
referred to the need for a ‘change agenda’ that will improve Australia’s
Bringing about cultural change is a protracted and highly complex task.
The Alannah and Madeline Foundation (the AMF), a national advocacy group for
preventing violence against children, commented there are five broad conditions
to achieve social change which could be applied in bringing about cultural
change in the workplace. These five conditions include:
- a common agenda for
change where stakeholders have a shared understanding of this issue and a
joint-approach for addressing the issue;
- a consistent
measurement of the issue, to gauge the prevalence of the problem and to assess
the impact of new initiatives;
- mutually reinforcing
activities, where different activities are complementary, coordinated and
focused on the shared vision for change;
- an ongoing and open
dialogue between key stakeholders to build trust, affirm objectives and maintain
- resources are
invested to coordinate activities across stakeholders (usually through a
separate organization whose main focus is the change agenda).
The Committee was encouraged throughout the inquiry to develop
recommendations that would lead to a practical, multifaceted approach
consisting of awareness-raising, education, support services and improved
enforcement. The AMF acknowledged that these activities will need to be ‘delivered
by different stakeholders at many different levels’.
This chapter considers prevention and resolution strategies and
- provision for a
single government agency to provide a coordinated advice, assistance and
resolution service to employers and workers alike;
- provision for a
single entry point or ‘gateway’ to regulators in the various jurisdictions and
across all areas of law;
- awareness raising of
workplace bullying and how the final Code of Practice can be best promoted;
- strategies to
encourage good workplace cultures through the establishment of a national
accreditation system of employers who achieve standards of psychosocial health
- improving the
national evidence base; and
- enhancing education
and protections for young workers.
Complexity of regulation and dispersed support services
Throughout the inquiry, employers, workers, their legal representatives
and consultants highlighted the regulatory complexity of workplace bullying.
Chapter 2 outlined the different areas of law that may be brought into play by
workplace bullying and the authority and powers of the regulators with respect
to workplace bullying. These include:
- work health and
safety laws of the Commonwealth and each state and territory with local regulators
for each jurisdiction;
- industrial relations
legislation at the Commonwealth level, covering the 96 per cent of employers in
tribunal (Fair Work Australia) hearing unfair dismissal cases and adverse
ombudsman (the Fair Work Ombudsman) investigating complaints and suspected
contraventions of the entitlements provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009,
and providing advice and education on the Act; and
legislation in federal, state and territory jurisdictions with commissions established
to hear complaints about discrimination claims.
Each of these agencies has a defined role, with few overlapping
responsibilities. However, community and industry expectations of the purpose
and powers of these institutions with respect to workplace bullying, appear
greater than the powers of any one area.
Although all of the agencies listed above dedicate resources to
education and advice services, there is still significant confusion about their
role and responsibilities, as well as the overarching confusion as to how
workplace bullying is or should be responded to. These challenges are
experienced by both employers and workers alike.
Employers, regardless of their size or industry, can struggle to navigate
the complexities of developing systems, strategies and methods of work that
reduce the risk of their workers being exposed to psychosocial risks. There is
confusion amongst employers about how to tackle this issue, what
responsibilities they carry, how they can meet these responsibilities, and to
what extent they can act on a finding of bullying.
Confusion, frustration and isolation are also felt by workers. Workers,
and their industrial representatives, who participated in the inquiry reported
confusion about what rights and remedies they have to pursue bullying
complaints either internally with their employers or externally with the multitude
of frameworks listed above.
Frustration was expressed by individuals who attempt to resolve the
issue internally within their workplace and those who had
attempted to engage agencies. Many workers who had
been targets of workplace bullying also questioned the willingness of work
health and safety (WHS) regulators to enforce their powers.
Similar stories have been reported in mainstream media earlier this year.
Confusion and frustration of employers and workers would indicate a need
for more practical information to better understand the role and powers of all
agencies involved in workplace bullying. The submission of the Chamber of
Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) was typical of calls for the
enhancement of educational and support services and the promotion of employers
and community awareness and access to these services.
CCIQ advocated that governments should focus on preventative measures by
education and support services, and subsequently increase
businesses’ and the community’s awareness and access to these services.
Although all state, territory and Commonwealth regulators (particularly in
WHS and anti-discrimination areas) provide support and advice services, there
is currently a range of support activities that are not available because they fall
through the gaps between the function of the regulators. Dr Carlo Caponecchia,
a workplace bullying expert, identified the following areas:
- advising workers on
when and how to make a report of bullying (and when not to);
- providing options to
workers and monitoring and supporting them;
- advising people who
have been accused of workplace bullying (an often forgotten group that needs
- managing the
allocation of independent investigators (who are appropriately trained and
vetted) to organisations as necessary.
The complexities of the problem of workplace bullying and the labyrinth
of regulation of WHS, anti-discrimination, workers compensation and criminal
law over nine Australian jurisdictions has led to heightened confusion and a
‘haphazard’ approach to community education and awareness of the risk of
Both employer and worker organisations called for improved coordination
of agencies and information. Unions NSW suggested that there is currently ‘an
opportunity to coordinate all aspects of government in all jurisdictions’.
CCIQ was strongly supportive of increasing the awareness and
accessibility of current government and industry initiatives aimed at reducing
Work is required to reduce the high level of confusion that
currently exists within the community about which government agencies are
responsible for dealing with workplace bullying. There is a need for better
coordination between agencies to reduce the risk of complaints being
cross-referred and to provide better services and support to the victims and
A national service: advice, assistance and resolution
Calls for better coordination focused on the need for a national service
that would operate as a national depository of expert advice and practical
supporting materials for both employers and workers.
Employer organisations argued that there is a need for better assistance
and advice to be available for all parties when navigating these challenges.
For example, Master Grocers Australia stated:
there is still much more that needs to be done to ensure that
all workplaces are provided with the tools to ensure that bullying is not
tolerated in any Australian workplaces.
An individual commented:
there have been nine different places that we have rung.
There should be a one-stop shop. It is really hard when you are in there
fighting, trying to find a solution and hearing, ‘No, try this one’, ‘No, try
this one’, ‘No, try this one’.
Underscoring these comments appears to be a desire for a single
‘one-stop shop’ that provides not only practical advice that would be specific
to a situation, but also advice on the different legal frameworks (WHS, anti-discrimination
etc), along with the specific avenues that are peculiar to the relevant
jurisdiction. Although harmonisation is removing the need for the latter, the
rate at which harmonisation is progressing would indicate that there is still a
residual need for specific advice for specific jurisdictions.
Unions NSW proposed a coordinated service, a ‘one-stop shop’ or central
depository of materials providing advice, assistance and strategies to respond
could be delivered through a telephone service and the AMF advocated for
online service delivery.
Headspace contended that ‘coordination’ should extend beyond traditional
state/territory and federal jurisdictions to include other stakeholders:
Employers require ongoing guidance and support to assist
employees who have experienced workplace bullying. Employers need to know where
they can turn for advice and assistance in supporting an employee. Fostering
links between workplaces and mental health and other community services will
assist referrals and provide integrated, supportive care to workers.
Provision of practical advice
Specific advice for employers
The need for practical assistance for employers was commented on by the
South Australian Office of the Employee Ombudsman:
... there is still a profound failure to grasp practical
interventions for dealing with [workplace bullying, and] education and support
services should focus on capacity building on how to prevent and respond to
Similarly, Dr Angela Martin, from the University of Tasmania stated:
Many managers might be quite sympathetic to the idea of ‘Workplace
bullying is bad and I do not want to have that in my workplace’ but they do not
have the tools, training and support systems to help them to achieve that.
The Chamber of Commerce Northern Territory and the Northern Territory Indigenous
Business Network (NTIBN) called for a ‘toolkit’ for employers.
Ms Toni Ah-Sam, Chair of the NTIBN suggested:
whether you are a small sole trader, in a partnership
arrangement or if you are running an non-government organisation, you still need
some basic toolkits. Giving them something in a toolkit that they would be able
to access free through some sort of information package, I envisage that these
businesses would be able to click on a link saying ‘How to Deal With Bullying
in the Workplace—these are some things that you as an employer would need to
Dr Caponecchia also advocated for employers to be provided with
additional, practical support through the development and evaluation of
materials to complement the final Code of Practice: Managing the Risk of
Workplace Bullying. Dr Caponecchia contended
that the following materials could complement the final Code:
- valid and reliable
risk assessment tools;
- developing best
practice strategies, and contextualised case studies, for dealing with bullying
across a range of businesses and sectors; and
- providing advice for
employers on ‘early triage systems’ and what is the best kind of intervention
for an array of situations. 
To provide small and medium enterprises with greater assistance, the NTIBN
supported the development of a ‘checklist’, developed specifically for smaller
employers. However, the Chamber of
Commerce Northern Territory cautioned:
We have to be careful about someone developing a checklist
that becomes the panacea all of a sudden, because it is not. It is only a bit
of the tool kit. There has to be a lot more in there than just that. But at
least, for those organisations that have no policies or procedures, it gives
[them] a starting point.
The provision of advice must not only assist employers through the
response to workplace bullying once it is present in an organisation, but show
how the employer can, and should, take proactive measures to respond to the
risk of workplace bullying.
In this regard, the AMF argued that its successful eSmart program
can be applied successfully to workplaces:
[eSmart] provides a method for creating a cultural change in
the workplace through social and behavioural change campaigns and provides a
mechanism to deliver interventions. Because an eSmart workplace is required to
record and monitor its progress in implementing bullying policies and best practice
strategies to reduce the incidence and harms caused by workplace bullying,
eSmart offers a method for tracking and reporting the effects of interventions
within the workplace.
Using the eSmart program as a template, the Foundation advocated for the
following advice and support services be developed for employers to implement
in their workplaces:
- a framework to help
workplaces navigate the myriad of information;
- a website where
workplaces can access strategies for implementing good workplace policies,
procedures and cultures, including sign-posted links to the best-available
resources and tools;
- an online tool where
workplaces can track and report on their progress;
- an ongoing ‘help desk’
service that is available to all workplaces; and
- a training session
(virtual or otherwise) for every workplace, supported by online forums and webinars.
For Australia to tackle the problem of bullying in the workplace,
employers must be fully aware of their responsibilities in health and safety
risks and in psychosocial hazards. This requires equipping employers with the
relevant knowledge to meet their workplace health and safety obligations and to
be able to address issues arising from unacceptable behaviour.
Tailored information and advice for workers
Evidence received throughout the inquiry indicated that tailored
information and advice should be developed for workers. The provision of such services,
it was argued, must be tailored to support targets, those accused of bullying
and the workforce as a whole.
Advice for targets
There is a ‘chronic’ need to provide support services to individual
workers who experience workplace bullying. Dr Caponecchia detailed the current
lack of support:
Support services for people who feel they have been bullied
are chronically unavailable. The issues include that:
- They cannot always
talk to someone in their organisation due to confidentiality issues;
- their doctor may not
have experience in the area;
- their union may or
may not be helpful, they may or may not be a member;
- they cannot always
afford a psychologist (and do not always need one, if they only need advice on
- some agencies simply
refer people to their health and safety regulators because bullying per se is
not directly in their scope of activity; and
- according to the
reports of targets, safety regulators can appear to be dismissive.
In short, there is often nowhere for people to go to get advice
and support. This is likely to exacerbate any negative effects that they are
Some of these issues may go beyond the services that an advice and
assistance service could provide. However, coordinating the service-providers
and developing a seamless referral process would be an avenue where aggrieved
or injured workers may be better supported. The case for such a referral
service was made by the AMF as quoted above.
At the very least, workers should be able to access consistent and clear
guidance on how, and to whom, they should report bullying within their
workplaces. Dr Caponecchia advocated
that workers should be advised:
about when and how to report workplace bullying, giving
people strict criteria and guidelines to follow.
Offering greater support to workers to report was also supported by Mr
Mark McCabe, Commissioner of Worksafe ACT:
We detect a fair bit of fear about what the consequences will
be for their employment and their social interaction with others. [W]e need some
kind of better support for people who feel they are victims to enable them to
understand what protections there are and to encourage them to come forward.
Mr Jarrod Michael Moran, Senior WHS and Workers Compensation Officer at
the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) agreed:
Giving someone an ability in a workplace to stand up and say,
'There is a health and safety issue here,' is paramount to the work that we do.
Workers knowing what they are exposed to, workers knowing how to deal with what
they are exposed to, is paramount. [If] someone is being victimised in the
workplace they need some confidence to be able to speak up, for fear of further
victimisation, of censure, of losing their position and those kinds of things.
These are all real things that are happening in the modern workforce.
Beyond the initial support of workers to report instances of bullying,
it became apparent throughout the inquiry that the array of bullying situations
in workplaces requires providing a spectrum of options. Unions NSW contended
that an advice service would ‘provide consistent and clear guidance to workers
on addressing the behaviour when it occurs’.
Providing options that can be tailored to suit the needs of the parties
will not only encourage more proactive resolution of these situations, but may
lead to more agreeable outcomes. This may include using the early intervention
strategies or mediation methods in the preliminary stages of inappropriate
behaviour discussed in chapter 3.
Importantly, the spectrum of options and advice provided must extend to
all courses of action, including empowering workers to leave the organisation
should they be in a position to do so. Sally Jetson and Associates commented on
the need for the advice to cover the complete spectrum including discussing
the option of leaving the workplace:
My key message is to the targets of bullying: give your
employer one chance to act, to resolve and address your concerns and ensure
your safety and wellbeing. If that fails, then get out. If your employer has
not got the guts to stand up for you, do not stay and fight because you will
not walk away without huge personal costs.
In presenting this evidence, the Committee would not wish to convey a
flippant message here. Poor workplace behaviour, and an employer’s reticence to
improve that culture and system of work, should not force a worker to leave
their job. Rather, this discussion reflects the many individuals who appeared
before the Committee or who submitted to the inquiry who, with the benefit of
hindsight, wished they had left the organisation before they sustained
significant psychological injuries.
However, leaving an organisation is not an option for many workers.
Davidson Trahaire Corpsych acknowledged how many workers with whom they have
worked feel ‘trapped’ in a workplace where they are bullied. Difficult personal
financial circumstances, coupled with limited options for other employment
often mean that leaving the organisation is not an option for workers.
Providing advice to those accused of bullying
An often overlooked challenge in discussions about workplace bullying is
the effect that an accusation of bullying can have on a worker who is the
alleged perpetrator of that behaviour. Importantly, an unfounded claim of
bullying can amount to bullying itself.
Dr Caponecchia recommended that better advice be available to those who
have been accused of bullying. Dr Caponecchia stated:
It would be possible to have that [national] body do a whole
bunch of important things—not just advising targets but also, for example,
advising people who have been accused of using bullying behaviours, because
they are a group that are often forgotten about. They can be really badly
The Committee received minimal evidence on how and what advice should be
provided to workers who have been accused of bullying. Importantly, the draft Code
of Practice: Managing the Risk of Workplace Bullying (draft Code) does not
provide guidance to workers who have been accused of bullying.
Information and advice for the whole workforce
A recurring theme of the inquiry was the responsibilities of all workers
to each other. Beyond the legal responsibilities all workers carry to each
other, all workers contribute to the culture of an organisation. As discussed
in chapter 4, workplace culture has enormous potential to reduce the prevalence
of bullying at work.
Acknowledging this dynamic, stakeholders discussed the role of
bystanders in intervening and responding to instances of bullying in the
workplace. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) advocated the
important role that bystanders can play in preventing and responding to
bullying in the workplace and encouraging strategies that create the confidence
and safety for bystanders to take action. The AHRC commented that
Include[s] taking proactive action by identifying and
stopping a situation before it happens, intervening during an incident, and
learning how to effectively and safely take action when confronted with
behaviours that support violence, harassment and bullying.
Dr Sara Branch from Griffith University also discussed how education of
the whole workplace should be a focus and the benefits that will result:
One of the areas where a lot of leverage could be had is with
encouraging bystanders not to be silent and with skilling bystanders—and that
means everybody—to feel empowered enough to step up and say, 'Hey, what you're
doing there is not right.
The personal accounts from individuals who experienced bullying at work
indicated that bystanders, though wanting to speak up against the inappropriate
behaviour, did not have the tools to do so. For example, the following statement
was made by an individual worker, working as a teacher, who participated in the
Committee’s individual impact statement session:
Staff members—people I considered friends—actually told me in
private not to take it personally, but they could not sit with me in school, or
be seen talking to me on their own, because they may be the next person she
would choose to bully. ... I can still see a colleague standing behind the
principal her eyes wide, mouthing, 'I'm sorry,' as she walked away. Once the
principal had finished she watched as I headed to my classroom trying to hold
it together. Staff members passed and whispered, 'Keep walking; she's watching.
The dynamics reported in this individual impact statement are likely to
reflect the day-to-day experiences of many workers in Australia. The capacity
therefore of providing advice to the workforce as a whole is particularly
The evidence received throughout this inquiry pinpoints the need to
establish a single, national service to provide advice to employers and workers
alike on how to prevent, and respond to workplace bullying. Support of this
kind should also be available to those officers who have prescribed duties
under the WHS Acts including health and safety representatives.
The Committee believes that the national service should draw upon the
existing guidance and assistance materials developed by the regulators across
the relevant areas of WHS law, anti-discrimination law, industrial relations
law, workers compensation law and criminal laws. The collation of the vast, yet
dispersed, information is integral for Australia to overcome workplace
Access to practical, implementable advice, assistance and resolution
support must be available through online and telephone platforms. Online
services should be quick and easy to access, with a collection of tailored
information available for both workers and employers.
More specifically, employers should be able to access a variety of
services which assist them to tackle workplace bullying, including:
- clear advice on their
legal obligations with respect to workplace bullying;
- a toolkit that
provides reliable risk assessment tools to assist employers in their initial
risk management assessments of the risks of workplace bullying;
- assistance packages
to develop policies and procedures, with the necessary flexibility to
accommodate the specifics of the industry, size and characteristics of the
- a sliding-scale
diagnostic tool to assist employers calibrate their response to possible
bullying behaviour in accordance with the ‘triage’ system discussed throughout
- specialised best
practice strategies and case studies for their specific industry and workforce
- downloadable training
packages that promote good workplace behaviours which can be tailored to
In addition, advice should also be provided to employers who are seeking
to reform their workplace culture. Further, assistance should be available to
support employers who are seeking to assist workers who engaged in
inappropriate behaviour. This might be in the form of specific strategies, or
the development of training materials.
Support should also be made available to workers. This includes:
- early intervention
strategies which they might be employed to respond to bullying behaviours
directed at them;
- how and when to
- tools which may be of
assistance to workers personally, when dealing with the effects of bullying at
- clear advice about
the objectives and content of areas of relevant regulation including WHS,
industrial relations, workers compensation, anti-discrimination and criminal
- a coordinated
referral service to ongoing support organisations; and
- specific advice to
those workers who have been accused of bullying others in the workplace;
- information about the
obligation of all workers to ensure their actions do not adversely affect the
health and safety of their colleagues; and
- information for
observers or bystanders of bullying about how to support the targeted worker,
and how they might progress their concerns with the employer.
Further, with prescribed duties under the WHS Acts, health and safety
representatives are often the first point of call for workers experiencing
bullying by a colleague, manager or third party. Information should also be
made available to health and safety representatives to assist them to support
and advise workers who are experiencing bullying and to progress these issues
with the employer.
The Committee did not receive evidence on where such a service should be
located. It might be best situated within an existing government agency or
department such as Safe Work Australia, the Fair Work Ombudsman or the
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. It may also be
considered appropriate for the service to be an independent body that is funded
by the Commonwealth. Consequently, the Committee does not have a clear
recommendation as to where the new national service may sit.
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government,
in consultation with stakeholders, establish a new national service to
provide advice, assistance and resolution services to employers and workers.
Its activities should include:
- a hotline service to provide advice to employers and workers alike on a variety
of topics including:
- practical, preventative and proactive steps that employers can take
to reduce the risk of workplace bullying;
- empowering workers to respond early to the problem behaviour
- provide advice to workers who have been accused of bullying
others in their workplace;
downloadable training packages for employers to tailor to their industry and
proactive, onsite and ongoing education service targeting specific industries
where bullying is known to be particularly problematic;
- resolution assistance services including information about how and when to engage
mediation sessions between the workers concerned; and
- collating information when providing the above services, and contributing to improving the national evidence base in Australia on workplace bullying.
||The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government,
through Safe Work Australia, develop an accredited training program for
managers and health and safety representatives to equip them to deal with
workplace bullying matters.
Resolution assistance and mediation services
A key focus of the evidence has been on developing improved resolution
options for parties. Broadly, the ACTU commented on the need for some form of
independent resolution assistance service prior to the breakdown of employment
Sometimes those [relationships] are going to break down.
Sometimes they are not going to work.[W]e think there needs to be some step
between a breakdown in the workplace and the more formal aspects of how you
resolve that through a court system. ... There needs to be something in the
middle. Conciliation is perhaps one model, some mediation or some
recommendation by an inspector that something else can happen are other things
that could be used in this space.
Where workplace bullying arises from a workplace conflict, informal
mediation and/or conciliation sessions may be a useful tool to employers and
managers to respond to that behaviour.
Yet mediation is not without challenges. The challenges of mediation were
discussed in chapter 3. In some circumstances mediation will be an appropriate
option for the resolution of early bullying. However, the power imbalance that
emerges through long-term bullying will reduce the capacity of traditional
mediation to be an effective tool.
If used early in the process, and employers and/or managers are
proactive in identifying and responding to poor workplace behaviour, mediation
services may be useful. Yet to be successful, it was commented that mediators
should be independent of the organisation.
For example, the Employment Law Centre of Western Australia (Inc) (ELC)
submitted that internal processes may not be suitable in some cases:
A conciliating function by an external party would be
valuable to an aggrieved employee. ELC is often contacted by employees who feel
they are being bullied by superiors who “have the ear” of management (or who
constitute the management itself) and as such feel that an internal mediation
process will not assist.
The ELC argued that it would therefore be a positive move to empower a
tribunal with the authority to conciliate and resolve cases of alleged
Similarly, Ms Meredith Hammat, President of Unions WA contended:
I think one of the processes that would help with resolution
is having some form of truly independent mediator or third party that can
assist in the resolution of issues. ... A truly independent mechanism that
would allow some kind of more informal resolution options would go a long way. 
Dr Caponecchia also reflected on mediation. He noted that its use in
regard to workplace bullying is not always appropriate or positive:
I feel I should mention that in the international literature,
the notion of mediation is highly controversial. ... Mediation is more focused
on not whether it happened or not but, 'Let's get back to work', which may mean
transferring someone. It may mean an agreement that sees them working together
again, which might be a little bit risky. It might mean someone leaves. The
outcomes are not always great. I think people go to mediation and organisations
use mediation too soon, and almost as a bit of a default. That is partly
because the mindset that we often have with this problem is more a human
resources and an industrial-relations mindset than a risk-and-safety mindset. 
Ms Moira Rayner from the Law Institute of Victoria did not support the
use of mediation:
Someone who is a bully does not listen to mediation. They
need to be pulled up in front of somebody who has the power to say that this is
or is not bullying and to be told, 'This falls within the definition,' so they
cannot shrug it off and say, 'That's just the way I am,' or, 'She's
supersensitive,' or, 'They are hypersensitive and fragile and this is the way
things go in our workplace.'
However, Dr Moira Jenkins, a clinical psychologist and consultant who
works with organisations to prevent and manage workplace bullying, supported
the use of mediation as an early intervention tool:
If we are looking at bullying from an occupational health and
safety perspective, there are recommendations in relation to early
intervention, which I think is very important, and to mediation being used as
an early intervention. I do not think mediation is appropriate later on when
you have very damaged people, but as an early intervention I think it is great.
However, if mediation is being used, there needs to be a system where it is not
kept confidential and just between the two parties; there needs to be a risk
management perspective of identifying what organisational issues contributed to
the problem occurring.
Mediation presents an opportunity for longer-term resolution of issues,
including providing feedback on workplace culture and systems of work both of
which contribute to the creation of the initial risk of bullying at work. Mediation
as an early intervention tool was supported by several individual submitters to
the inquiry. For example, the following comment was made by an individual
worker who had been bullied at their workplace:
There should be mandatory mediation at the very outset of any
complaints if this is not thought to be advisable then there should be
mandatory counselling and mentoring for not just the bullied but the bully.
Mediation cannot be the panacea to workplace bullying, rather, it is an
effective early intervention tool and needs to be applied on a case-by-case
basis. Although the evidence from stakeholders on the use of mediation was not
particularly conclusive, the capacity of alternative dispute resolution methods
as a tool for early intervention did appear to be supported by the majority of
participants in the inquiry.
Throughout the inquiry, stakeholders raised the possibility of a new
independent mediation service which could be voluntarily used in early to
respond to instances of poor workplace behaviour. It is unlikely, and would be
inappropriate, for mediation to be used in cases where bullying behaviours had
occurred over a protracted period. However, mediation can form part of an early
intervention model where poor workplace behaviour has been detected.
Resolution achieved through mediation can also feed into the workplace
culture. This can be achieved by ensuring that the employer is a party to the
mediation and takes responsibility for their role in managing WHS.
The Committee is aware that the Victorian Government offered mediation
services to employers and workers through its WHS regulator, WorkSafe Victoria.
Though the program was not utilised during its six-month trial, the Committee
believes that lessons can be learnt from the Victorian experience. Potentially,
the success of the program could have been affected by the service being
located in the office of the regulator itself.
The Committee recognises that more work is required to progress the idea
into a practical service. However, the evidence received throughout the inquiry
indicated that workers and employers alike wish to be better equipped to
proactively overcome instances of conflict or poor behaviour before the
behaviour descends into bullying.
||The Committee recommends that the Minister for Employment
and Workplace Relations develop a trial mediation service for resolution of
conflicts where there is a risk of bullying arising out of poor workplace
behaviour, prioritising small and medium enterprises, and where employers and
workers jointly request the use of the service in an effort to resolve the
A single entry point to regulators
It was discussed earlier in this chapter the confusion that results from
the labyrinth of regulation that workers and employers face when engaging with
government agencies about bullying experiences at work. For example, Mr Michael
Borowick, the Assistant Secretary of the ACTU, contended that the three
dominant areas of regulation, WHS, industrial relations and criminal law, need
to be coordinated.
The call for improved coordination was also made by industry groups.
CCIQ also advocated for a single entry point where cross-agency protocols were
developed to streamline the referral process:
A single point of entry or cross-agency protocols are
required to streamline the referral process and allow for the collection and
disbursal of accurate and meaningful date in the area of workplace bullying.
A single point of entry, or a ‘gateway’ to regulators, would allow
complainants to access assistance through a single advice service by developing
greater cross-agency protocols to improve referrals across state/federal government
The call for a single point of entry to relevant agencies was endorsed
by some state WHS regulators. For example, the Acting Deputy Director of the
Office of Fair and Safe Work Queensland, Dr Simon Blackwood contended:
The plethora of agencies that look like they might deal with
workplace bullying means that there are a lot of people ringing into various
systems and being referred around the place, because: 'No, it may not be
exactly a health and safety issue; it looks more like an antidiscrimination
issue or something else.'
Bullying will get addressed by a number of agencies and laws,
and therefore there is a need for better coordination between agencies. The
fact is that some complainants will obviously be looking for redress through
different tribunals and information sources, and they will at the same time get
bounced around by the different agencies within government at a federal and
state level. We believe that consideration should be given to allowing
complainants to access assistance through a single entry point or at least
developing greater cross-agency protocols to improve referrals across
government. That is certainly been an issue that we have found comes up. And,
as we said, there is a need to manage expectations about responses to bullying.
WorkSafe ACT also endorsed the idea of a single point of entry, with the
following caveat made by Mr McCabe:
It is an excellent idea. Sometimes people do not just get
bounced around—they will be pursuing it down different avenues at the same
time. It is not something we can directly control; we have to negotiate with
those other bodies for some mechanism for a single entry point—but that does
not mean it is not doable.
One of the constraints would be the legislative obligations
we are all under once the issue is raised with us, which they would face as
well. But I still think it is an excellent idea.
WorkSafe WA also supported the single point of entry:
Our experience has shown that often, by the time people come
here to WorkSafe, they have been to a number of other agencies and they have
been bounced around. The Western Australian WorkSafe regulator also is a party
to that bouncing process, so we do not have clean hands in that sense.
Clarifying the public’s expectation of regulators’ powers and
Developing a single point of entry would also be a vehicle to clarify
the public’s expectation of regulators’ powers and responsibilities. The ACTU
Clarity is needed around the roles of [regulators]. That is a
very necessary path in addressing those issues.
Dr Caponecchia similarly recommended that efforts need to be made to
clarify the roles of various agencies (WHS regulators, discrimination
commissions, industrial relations tribunals and ombudsmen) with a goal of
clarifying end-user’s expectations of what these agencies have responsibility
for, and what outcomes they are empowered to deliver.
Dr Caponecchia contended:
There is a need to educate people on what exactly the role of
the safety regulators is, because there seems to be a gap between what workers
might expect and what the regulators can do and should do. Indeed it may be
that the exact role of the regulators needs to be reframed and better
The expectations on the safety regulators, to be fair, are
not always in line with what the regulators' role is.
Repeatedly, the Committee heard of stakeholders’ frustrations and
confusion about the roles and responsibilities of the numerous regulators. This
frustration was expressed by employer organisations and unions alike. Support
for a single entry point or a ‘gateway’ to regulators was not only supported
by employer organisations, workers and their industrial representatives but
also a number of the regulators responsible for enforcing laws around workplace
Underscoring these calls for a single entry point appears to be a need
for better cross-jurisdictional advice and coordination amongst regulators
throughout the jurisdictions and between the different areas of regulation.
Further, the evidence received throughout the inquiry pointed to a
disconnect between the expectations and experiences of stakeholders interaction
with regulators. Many participants, including workers, unions, academics, and practicing
lawyers, identified a ‘gap’ in current regulation. Whilst other participants
called for current regulation to be ‘streamlined’ so that duplicated regulation
could be minimised.
This situation highlights the need for clarity in the community about
the purpose and objective of the different aspects of regulation. This report
has attempted to provide some clarity of this kind in chapter 2.
When members of the business community are perceiving duplication, and
workers and the industrial and legal representatives are observing gaps, it
would appear that the purpose of these regulatory bodies is not fully
appreciated. A lack of appreciation of what regulator does what, can lead some
to have higher expectations than what these regulators are currently empowered
The Committee therefore has identified an urgent need in the community
for greater clarity on the roles of the respective regulators.
The Committee recommends the Commonwealth Government work
with its state and territory counterparts to develop better cross-agency
protocols in respect of workplace bullying, to allow for better information-sharing,
cross-jurisdictional advice and complaint referrals across the following
areas of regulation:
health and safety laws;
compensation laws; and
Raising awareness and promoting education of workplace bullying
A national conversation about workplace bullying has begun in Australia.
The Committee’s inquiry feeds into this discussion, and it is hoped that as the
discussion progresses, more Australian will feel comfortable not only to
identify inappropriate behaviour, but to speak up and report.
Importantly, there has been an increasing awareness of the hazard of
workplace bullying and how organisations can be proactive in mitigating those
risks. The Northern Territory Working Women's Centre noted:
It is fair to say that there has been some awareness raising on
this issue in the last few years, and it has been really good to see a number
of organisations introduce their own workplace policies and their own community
education type programs. Unfortunately that is not enough.
The NTIBN commented that awareness and advocacy campaigns should be
developed in collaboration with stakeholders such as employer and industry
associations. Ms Ah-Sam elaborated:
And, if people are made very much aware of it, they cannot
plead ignorance. ... They cannot plead ignorance if we have promoted awareness
and have a campaign going [and] additional information [is available]. There
are so many different stakeholders involved in this that you cannot develop
such an educational or preventative campaign without factoring in all of those
things. Why reinvent the wheel? 
However, the AMF cautioned that education campaigns are not necessarily
It is often the first response of organisations to create a
campaign to disseminate views. [But] ‘Campaigns’ on their own have little
long-term effect on behavioural change. They do play a role as part of a whole
of community cultural change strategy. A multi-faceted approach consisting of
awareness-raising, education, support services and interventions (amongst other
things), which will need to be delivered by different stakeholders at many
different levels to address the issue of bullying, including workplace bullying
across our society.
In isolation, support services and awareness campaigns cannot reduce
workplace bullying in an ongoing and holistic way. Rather, these activities
must be part of a broader approach to address the issue, involving the
co-ordination of a range of different activities and interventions at different
Promoting the final Code of Practice
Once finalised, Safe Work Australia and the state/territory regulators
will seek to promote the Code of Practice. These regulators have developed,
adopted and promoted codes of practice on a variety of WHS topics including
asbestos, hazardous manual tasks, working in confined spaces and construction
work. Notably, most of these codes of practice are limited to certain
industries – making them easier to promote and achieve greater awareness.
Yet a key challenge with promoting the final Code of Practice:
Managing the Risks of Workplace Bullying will be the universality and
complexity of the problem. It was clear throughout all evidence received by the
Committee, that the problem of workplace bullying is not limited to certain
industries or workers who attain senior position in an organisation.
Bullying at work is a complex phenomenon affecting all industries,
workplaces of different sizes, and affects workers in different ways and to
Communicating the obligations and guidance that are established in the
Code will be a challenge for the state/territory regulators and Safe Work
Australia. Starting a conversation with an audience who is unaware of a risk
can be a complicated task. In contrast, where an audience is aware of a problem
and seeking guidance of how to manage or overcome that risk, is comparatively
easier as they are more open to receiving, and will often seek the information
Consequently, the CCIQ advocated for public information sessions on the
content of the Code, and by so doing, promoting the benefits of creating sound
One of the key strengths of the draft Code is its practical and
implementable guidance specific to both employers and workers. The Code
discusses bullying at the workplace level making it easier to comprehend such a
The Committee believes that this method of communication should be used
by the new national service body when it engages in awareness and education
initiatives. Its education initiatives must be proactive, and complement its
reactive advice service. Analysing its advice-service statistics will allow the
service to be proactive in its education strategies for the industries where
the statistics reveal there are acute problems. The national service should
also seek to work collaboratively with the multitude of regulators as well as
state and territory governments so that awareness and education initiatives are
consolidated, targeted and effective.
Throughout the inquiry, the Committee became aware of the workplace
bullying awareness and education initiatives run by various state-based
regulators. A notable example, is that conducted by the Victorian Department of
Justice in collaboration with Mr Damian Panlock.
The Committee would like to formally recognise the efforts of Brodie
Panlock’s parents, Damian and Rae Panlock, and their ongoing endeavours to
raise awareness about workplace bullying in Australia.
Recognising good culture: a national accreditation system
Culture can be improved through advice and awareness campaigns discussed
elsewhere in this chapter. However, participants in the inquiry further advised
that a system of ‘accreditation’ be developed to encourage and recognise
employers who achieve best practice in promoting the psychosocial health of
workers and maintain good workplace culture.
Employers’ achievements in protecting and promoting the health and
safety of their workers are recognised through the annual Safe Work Australia
Awards. The state and territory regulators also present employers with awards
in health and safety each year.
However, there is no ongoing recognition of employers who maintain good
working cultures and exercise good practice with regards to psychosocial
health. Workplace bullying expert, Dr Caponecchia recommended that a list of
organisations be developed to recognise these good practices.
Dr Caponecchia expanded:
That would be a great place for us to go, if we actually
started rewarding people for doing this well. My colleagues and I talked about
that several years ago as one of the places we need to take this area. Wouldn't
it be great if one day there was an accreditation system or an awards system
that said, 'This company, this company and this company have been evaluated as
doing this really well.' It is almost like the idea that there are lists of
companies that do corporate social responsibility well. There is an index every
year, I think. ... That was the kind of pie-in-the-sky idea that we had. We do
have [work health and] safety awards, but they are for all of safety.
Similar recommendations were made by Harmers Workplace Lawyers and the
Australian Institute for Employment Rights (AIER). Both called for a system of
‘accreditation’ to support and promote healthy workplace cultures.
Harmers Workplace Lawyers recommended the implementation of a system of accreditation
for employers across Australia whereby employers become accredited for
compliance with standards of psychosocial health and safety.
The AIER called for a National System of Accreditation to encourage workplaces
to improve their workplace cultures:
It is clear that a systemic approach to managing workplace
culture is required. ... Given the clear business and community case for
investment in workplace culture, this requires a comprehensive national
approach. The AIER believes that this is best administered at a federal level.
In addition to initiatives such as the development of procurement guidelines,
the Australian Government needs to lead the way by developing a National
Accreditation System that would educate employers and other workplace
participants, and encourage their alignment with the objectives and values of
The AIER advocates that an accreditation system should:
- be accessible to all
employers and their workplaces: ‘the costs and complexity of the system do not
preclude small businesses or those with limited human resources expertise from
engaging with it’;
- be inclusive of
employers, workers and their representatives, whereby the rights and legitimate
expectations of workers and employers are balanced against the public interest;
- aim to influence
workplace culture by being an educative tool.
The AIER contended:
a National Accreditation System would address workplace
culture over the long term. Such a comprehensive and systemic approach lends
itself to focussing on the preventative ability and willingness of the business
to minimise physical and mental illness arising from adverse culture in the
present, as well as, in the future.
The need to improve workplace culture in Australia was discussed
throughout the inquiry. However, very few participants recommended how this
might be achieved. A number of submissions called for a system of national
accreditation that recognises ‘employers of choice’. The AIER, Harmers
Workplace Lawyers and Dr Caponecchia called for a system of this kind.
On the recommendations of these participants, an employer would become
‘accredited’ or recognised for achieving defined standards of psychosocial
health and safety. The Committee believes that this system could motivate
employers to improve their workplace cultures and, more specifically, increase
their awareness of the importance of workers’ psychosocial health.
A challenge with establishing an accreditation system is developing the
standards by which to measure workplaces. A recurrent theme throughout the
inquiry is that there is no settled ‘best practice’ model that could be
universally applied to all sectors. However, the Committee believes that its
comments and recommendations to develop further guidance materials and specific
sector best practice guides could assist in developing the standards which a
national accreditation system could be evaluated against.
||The Committee recommends that the Minister for Employment
and Workplace Relations consider implementing, in conjunction with
stakeholders, a voluntary national accreditation system to recognise and
award employers who achieve best practice and meet defined standards of
psychosocial health and safety.
||The Committee recommends that the Minister for Employment
and Workplace Relations work with state and territory counterparts to
specifically recognise good practice in workplace psychosocial health and
safety through instituting annual employer awards in all jurisdictions
Improving the national evidence base
As commented in chapter 1, Australia does not have an evidence base on
which to assess the trends of, or develop appropriate policy responses to,
workplace bullying. The absence of a national evidence base was commented by a
majority of stakeholders. For example, Unions NSW commented:
there is a lack of knowledge of the depth of bullying in our
workplace community and the extent to what it costs the community and who bears
Similarly, Professor Maryam Omari and Mr David Blades argued:
Clearly we need to know more about the environment of work.
That is, what are Australian workplaces like? What are the main quality of
work-life issues for employees and employers? How do experiences of employees
differ within different professions and work settings? What is best practice?
Dr Caponecchia argued that improving the national evidence base would
assist in the development of best practice guides and more practical assistance
to all parties. Dr Caponecchia stated:
We really need to get best practice from evidence, not just
practice from what we are already doing or from what is practical based on
where we already are.
Safe Work Australia commented on the other ‘gaps’ in Australia’s
knowledge of workplace bullying:
- a lack of
longitudinal data on bullying / harassment;
- the lack of a
complete national picture of the extent of workplace bullying across all
jurisdictions in Australia; and
- the lack of
information on how sources of bullying vary between industrial sectors in
To improve the national evidence base, the Government of South Australia
that the Commonwealth Government continues to explore
opportunities to conduct further research into the area of workplace bullying.
There should also be close links between research organisations (e.g. Universities)
and SafeWork Australia and other jurisdictions to ensure research findings are
disseminated to policy makers and industry to inform and improve policy,
workplace practices and procedures in the area of workplace bullying (for both
prevention and the management of bullying complaints).
Unions NSW also recommended that the Federal Government fund research
into the prevalence of workplace bullying across all industries, including
measures to address bullying.
Some participants called for Safe Work Australia to be adequately
resourced to conduct a long-term study of workplace bullying in Australia. The
In terms of the collection and analysis of data, Safe Work
Australia is reliant on the cooperation of the states and territories, which
sometimes is not forthcoming. Ideally, we would like to see Safe Work Australia
have an independent capacity to undertake research. However, in the current
budgetary climate, I think Safe Work Australia is struggling with its funding,
and perhaps this committee might see fit to make a recommendation about
adequate funding for research in this area. 
The need to improve Australia’s evidence base in workplace bullying was
discussed throughout the inquiry. As highlighted in preceding sections, the
Committee believes that the new national service could use its collated
information to improve the evidence base.
A key challenge for the Committee, and consequently for state/territory
and federal governments, is that responding to the problem of workplace
bullying is challenging as currently there is very little evidence that would
direct what is needed to assist stakeholders to combat the problem.
Though this inquiry has been a mechanism for the community to provide
feedback to policy makers about what is needed and how it should be delivered,
a long-term study of workplace bullying in Australia would allow regulators and
governments to assess the impact of their policies and better understand the
prevalence of bullying at work.
||The Committee recommends that the Minister for Employment
and Workplace Relations commission research into the prevalence and long-term
trends of workplace bullying in Australia using the definition provided in
||The Committee recommends that Safe Work Australia issues an
annual national statement which updates any emerging trends of its collated
data from each of the state and territory regulators, and the Commonwealth,
with respect to psychosocial health and safety generally and workplace
For young people, gaining employment symbolically represents an entry
point into the world of adulthood with responsibilities, freedom and respect.
However, according to headspace, the national youth mental health foundation, young
workers are particularly vulnerable to the impact of bullying as a transition
to work generally occurs at the same time when young people are most vulnerable
to the onset of mental health difficulties.
Indicating the prevalence of bullying experienced by young people at
work, the Adelaide-based, Young Workers Legal Service reported that in the last
year, they received 450 calls, 20 per cent of which related to workplace
Similarly, headspace reported findings from a survey of 797 apprentices which
found that 23 per cent of new apprentices felt that they had been bullied at
work which motivated them to leave the apprenticeship. headspace also stated
that young people (aged 18 to 25) report more stress in the workplace and less
positive experiences of work compared to other age groups.
Vulnerability of young workers
Young workers can be more vulnerable than other employees to the hazards
of workplace bullying. In a case that gained national attention in 2006, Brodie
Panlock, a 19 year old waitress, tragically took her own life after enduring
persistent and vicious workplace bullying. Mr Damian Panlock, Brodie’s father,
commented on the vulnerability of his young daughter:
They pick them out. They pick out the weakest. Brodie was the
weakest in that situation. She was the youngest and more vulnerable. They tried
it on other people in the organisation and it did not work because they were
The Government of South Australia argued that lack of knowledge about
appropriate working conditions and entitlements, together with limited life
experience and self-confidence can make younger workers vulnerable to
‘exploitative practices and workplace bullying’. 
The Government of South Australia also commented:
their often limited self-confidence can make it difficult for
them to speak up about experiencing bullying or to do anything to address the
situation for the fear of jeopardising their employment and any future
The Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission also commented on the
likelihood of, and barriers faced by, young workers:
young people will tend not to complain. When you are talking
about workplace situations, the capacity to get and retain work and wanting to
stay in a work environment probably are a further disincentive on top of the
fact that young people do not tend to use formal complaints bodies across the
board. I suspect there is a group who are probably highly vulnerable to
bullying who are less likely to be represented in data anywhere there are
Further, when young people transition from a school environment to a
working environment, they face different structures and operational systems
from those that they are accustomed. A school environment has clear, linear
hierarchies. This is in contrast to the workplace environment where power
structures can be dispersed and complex.
headspace commented on this transition:
I think there is a lot of transitioning across or initiating
that is not done that well at this time. Even in health care, parents often do
not take their young ones to a GP to say, 'You now look after your own health'.
We are strongly advocating for those things across the board for young people,
including that we should let young people know their rights in workplaces et
The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR)
also stated that the ‘transition’ from school to work presents an opportunity:
the Australian Government recognises that addressing bullying
behaviours and attitudes needs to commence well before people enter the
workplace, and that bullying can take many forms. ... The Government believes
student resilience and wellbeing are essential for academic and social
development and that all students should be able to learn and develop in safe,
supportive and respectful environments.
The opportunity to impart good workplace behaviours, resilience and
rights-awareness among young people as they transition from school into the
workplace is discussed in the following section.
Educating on workplace rights and good workplace behaviour
Recurring themes in the evidence indicated priorities for educating
young people of their workplace rights, the avenues available to seek
assistance, as well as developing good workplace behaviours.
headspace recommended a targeted campaign for young workers to inform
them of their rights and services that can support them, and further contended:
Many young people drop out work when they are experiencing
problems. They are less likely to seek help. Coordinated care and links with
mental health services and workplaces can assist in providing ongoing support.
This could prevent young people from dropping out of work altogether. ... Young
people need information about their rights in the workplace and where to turn
Educating young people of their workplace rights should also be balanced
with information about their legal responsibilities as a worker. As discussed
throughout this report, all workers carry responsibilities with respect to the
health and safety of their co-workers. A better understanding of these
responsibilities can lead to a deeper appreciation of good workplace behaviour.
Imparting an appreciation of good workplace behaviour is an extension of
current campaigns around good citizenship and good digital citizenship. The Australian
Chamber of Commerce and Industry stated:
By the time young people join the workforce they have been
exposed to many situations which cause them to define what is or is not acceptable
Similarly, the AMF argued:
Young people progress into the wider workplace setting and
take the cultural norms of bullying and cyberbullying [as] being unacceptable
with them. However, targeting young people in workplace training and apprentice
settings is only the first step... The goal is to have every work place become [an
environment] where bullying and cyberbullying are reduced.
School programs about good digital citizenship have coincided with discussions
about bullying more broadly. DEEWR referred to initiatives commenced by the AHRC
and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) that engage young people in discussions
about bullying online.
Despite the recent push for education in good citizenship and digital
citizenship highlighted by the AHRC and AFP programs, there was concern among
stakeholders that many young people are in workplaces across Australia with
little protection from bullying and its effects.
Work experience programs often occur at beginning of this transition,
and represent students’ first encounters with working environments. Work
experience programs are currently managed by the states and territories with
specific legislation regulating these programs.
Work experience placements aim to:
- provide students with
an opportunity to relate school studies with workplace contexts;
- prepare students for
the demands and expectations of the working world;
- help students make
informed career decisions by assessing their aptitudes and interests, and
exploring potential careers;
- give students
insights into the nature of diversity of employees in the workplace; and
- improve students’
maturity, confidence and self reliance.
These programs also provide opportunities for students to become more
informed about their responsibilities at work.
Protecting young people
In its submission, the Government of South Australia foreshadowed the
introduction of legislation to reinforce the protections for young workers
The South Australian Government is planning to introduce a
Child Employment Bill into the South Australian Parliament later in the year.
Within the context of this legislative framework, the Government will consider
the inclusion of specific provisions to reinforce the protections against
bullying for young workers.
The Government of South Australia recommended such an approach be adopted
in other jurisdictions.
The Committee did not receive evidence in support of or against
protecting young workers through specific legislation as the South Australian
Government has foreshadowed. The Committee therefore does not believe it can
make a specific recommendation on this matter.
However, once the bill is introduced into the South Australian
parliament, it is foreseeable that public debate will occur specifically on
this issue. In addition, it is foreseeable that discussions will also take
place at Safe Work Australia meetings on this topic. The Committee will watch
with interest the outcomes of these events.
Despite this, the Committee believes there is a unique opportunity for
good workplace behaviours to be instilled in young workers as they make the
transition from school to work. Enhancing the awareness of rights and
responsibilities at work at an early age is one of the preventative measures
that the Committee believes should form part of the national response to workplace
Developing the skills and self-awareness for respectful workplace
behaviours among young workers will also contribute to the ‘change agenda’ and
improvement in workplace culture that has been the undercurrent of this
||The Committee recommends that the Minister for Youth and the
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations work with their state and territory
counterparts to develop targeted initiatives for young Australians
undertaking the transition from school to work, about their rights and
responsibilities at work.