Inquiry into workplace bullying

In 2012, then Labour Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten announced a review into Bullying in the Workplace, by the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment. The review examined the nature, causes and extent of workplace bullying and considered proposals to prevent bullying cultures developing as well help individuals affected by bullying to return to work. It consulted extensively with the community. The committee provided its report to the Prime Minister in December 2012. The report can be downloaded on this page of the House of Representatives Committees website.   


The Review was an acknowledgement of the extent of the problem, with the Productivity Commission estimating the total cost of workplace bullying in Australia at between $6 billion and $36 billion annually, as well as the effect on families.  In the 'doorstop' announcement, made in the company of Brodie Panlock's parents, the Prime Minister referring to the Victorian law and national initiatives, said, '… more needs to be done and if we have a national parliamentary inquiry, it will enable people to come forward, tell their stories, help us work out the prevalence of bullying in work places and also help us add to what we are doing now. And one way we could add to what we are doing now is to take Brodie's law nationally and to have common national laws to deal with bullying at work.'  The Review will consider whether there are regulatory, administrative or cross-jurisdictional and international legal and policy gaps that should be addressed, and whether the existing regulatory frameworks provide a sufficient deterrent against workplace bullying.

The terms of reference, copies of the submissions and more information can be found on the Committee's website.  

A number of unions, as well as the VTHC and the ACTU made submissions to the Inquiry.

The Committee made 23 recommendations. These are:

1 Workplace bullying: we just want it to stop

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government promote national adoption of the following definition: workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government develop a national advisory service that provides practical and operational advice on what does and does not constitute workplace bullying, and offers self-assessment and guidance materials to workers and employers to determine whether behaviour meets the workplace bullying definition established in Recommendation 1.

2 Legislative and regulatory frameworks

Recommendation 3

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government, through Safe Work Australia urgently progress the draft Code of Practice: Managing the Risk of Workplace Bullying to a final version and that members of Safe Work Australia adopt the Code in all jurisdictions.

Recommendation 4

The Committee recommends that Safe Work Australia work with all jurisdictions to actively promote and implement the Code of Practice and ensure it is embedded in workplaces.

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government seek agreement through Safe Work Australia for the development and implementation of model Work Health and Safety Regulations that capture the minimum requirements for managing the risks of workplace bullying, applicable to all workplaces, as currently established in the draft Code of Practice: Managing the Risk of Workplace Bullying.

3  From legislation to implementation

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends that Safe Work Australia develop advice materials for employers that provide guidance on how to maintain the confidentiality of parties when responding to reports of workplace bullying, whilst also enabling the response to be transparent, similar to the risk management responses of other work health and safety hazards.

Recommendation 7

The Committee recommends that the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations commence a feasibility study of the Commonwealth Government providing an independent investigation referral service, and include consultation of the relevant stakeholders when conducting that study.

Recommendation 8

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government:

  • review how the fit for duty test under the Public Service Regulations 1999 is used to respond to bullying across the Australian Public Service and what safeguards are in place for its appropriate use;
  • publish a report setting out the findings of that review for transparency and to ensure it is available to all public servants;
  • make any necessary amendments to the legislation or public service policies to ensure that there are adequate safeguards in place for the appropriate use of the fit for duty test and there are easily accessible avenues for review should an allegation of misuse be made;
  • require the Australian Public Service Commission to collect data about the particular grounds on which fit for duty review applications are made to the Merit Protection Commissioner to ensure accountability for the use of that power; and
  • encourage its state and territory counterparts to similarly ensure there are safeguards in place in regards to the comparable provision in their public service legislation.

Recommendation 9

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government, through Safe Work Australia, develop advice materials for employers that detail appropriate responses to and outcomes for reports of workplace bullying.

4 Workplace cultures

Recommendation 10

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government, through the Centre of Workplace Leadership and in conjunction with industry and employer groups, work to promote the economic benefits of positive working environments that are free from workplace

5  Enhancing tools for the prevention and resolution of workplace bullying

Recommendation 11

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 they encounter;
    • provide advice to workers who have been accused of bullying others in their workplace;
  • providing downloadable training packages for employers to tailor to their industry and size;
  • a 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.

Recommendation 12

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.

Recommendation 13

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 matter.

Recommendation 14

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:

  • work health and safety laws;
  • industrial relations laws;
  • antidiscrimination laws;
  • workers compensation laws; and
  • relevant criminal laws.

Recommendation 15

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.

Recommendation 16

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 throughout Australia.

Recommendation 17

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 Recommendation 1.

Recommendation 18

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 bullying specifically.

Recommendation 19

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.

6 Enforcement and remedies

Recommendation 20

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government, through Safe Work Australia, develop a national accredited training program for all work health and safety inspectors that equips inspectors to identify and address instances of workplace bullying.

Recommendation 21

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government seek agreement from the work health and safety regulators of each jurisdiction through the Safe Work Australia process, for the development and endorsement of a uniform national approach to compliance and enforcement policy for preventing and responding to workplace bullying matters.

Recommendation 22

The Committee recommends that, through the Standing Council on Law and Justice, the Commonwealth Government:

  • encourage all state and territory governments to coordinate and collaborate to ensure that their criminal laws are as extensive as Brodie's Law; and
  • encourage state and territory governments to consider greater enforcement of their criminal laws in cases of serious workplace bullying, regardless of whether work health and safety laws are being enforced.

Recommendation 23

The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government implement arrangements that would allow an individual right of recourse for people who are targeted by workplace bullying to seek remedies through an adjudicative process.

Update: January 2014

Before losing to the Coalition in September 2013, the Gillard Labour Government implemented a number of the recommendations, notably the introduction of Anti-bullying laws which, from January 2014, give workers the right to apply to the national industrial commission (the Fair Work Commission) for an 'order' to stop that bullying. [ACTU information: New Fair Work Commission powers: A win for Workers.]

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Last amended February 2015

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