Bullying and Harassment

Bullying and Harassment

What is Workplace Harassment?

A person is subjected to workplace harassment if the person is subjected to repeated behaviour, other than behaviour amounting to sexual harassment, by a person, including the person's employer or a co-worker or a group of co-workers of the person that is:

- unwelcome and unsolicited
that the person considers to be offensive, intimidating, humiliating or threatening; and
a reasonable person would consider to be offensive, intimidating, humiliating or threatening.

However, it is important to note that 'workplace harassment' does not include reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way by the person's employer in connection with the person's employment. It is also important to note that the behaviour must be repeated to constitute workplace harassment. A one-off incident is therefore unlikely to constitute workplace harassment.

Harassment of Trainees

Some Doctors believe that it is alright to use bullying and harassment as a training tool. There is a culture (stronger in some specialities than others) that condones the use of bullying and threats up to and including physical abuse as a way of "screening out undesirables" from the profession or "toughening trainees up". Bullying is all about the abuse of power, and generally bullies pick on the powerless in order to gratify ingrained prejudices.

These behaviours in supervisors or trainers may include manipulation of rosters so that the trainee works fatigued, withholding planned leave, introduction of unrealistic or unachievable workloads, deliberately delaying or withholding of information or resources, persistent nit-picking and unjustified criticism (especially on group ward rounds) constantly being singled out or targeted for practical jokes or gossip deliberately being ostracised, isolated or ignored.

If this behaviour escalates to unit bullying where the perpetrator is being supported by his colleagues on his unit in his/her behaviour it may include failure of term assessment or allegations of physical or psychological faults in the trainees. The trainee may even be asked to undergo physical or psychological examination to exclude these problems. This adds to the trainees feelings of isolation, negativity and self doubt and may even initiate problems were none existed before.

Most colleges have anti-bullying codes of conduct and courses designed to educate trainers. These behaviours in supervisors are unacceptable, and should always be reported.

Resolving complaints in the workplace

When a complaint of workplace harassment is raised how it is responded to can influence how and when the issue is resolved. You Union rep at your hospital should be able to advise you about complaint resolution policies and procedures. Generally, complaints can be resolved either informally, or formally.

Before deciding on how to resolve the complaint the person raising the complaint should:
clearly define their concerns and desired outcome
assess the advantages and disadvantages of the informal versus formal process
consider the complexity of the situation (a formal option may need careful consideration if the situation is very complex)
be aware of support mechanisms available, for example counselling
acknowledge the consequences of making malicious, frivolous or vexatious complaints (complaints that are deliberately harmful, spiteful,     trivial or unworthy of serious attention or resources)


It is recommended that the opinion of an independent third party (for example, union Industrial officer) be obtained to help validate experiences and make a well informed decision regarding the most appropriate resolution option. If a workplace harassment prevention officer exists at your hospital they should provide details of an appropriate person to raise workplace harassment complaints with who can help.

More on workplace harassment prevention policies

Employers Obligations regarding Workplace harassment

For employers and employee's to understand the workplace health and safety requirements for workplace harassment, and their obligations under the law they must consider and understand relevant legislation and codes of practice.