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How to Spot a Workplace Bully

Many of us hoped that we had left the world of bullies behind in grade school, but unfortunately it’s just as common to find a bully in the workplace as it is in the school playground. Workplace bullying can have a major negative impact on any work environment, leaving individuals feeling victimised, uncomfortable, and insecure in their career. Watch out for these signs – if you spot them, mediation may be necessary.


  1. They set unmanageable targets. A tough boss is a common workplace hazard, but there’s a fine line between setting high standards and bullying. If your superior often assigns you tasks that are unachievable, sets deadlines that leave you working all night, or overloads you with mountains of work that you can’t handle, you may be a victim of workplace bullying.
  2. They get aggressive. You should never have to put up with somebody verbally harassing you, whether that’s through yelling and shouting or swearing at you. This kind of behaviour is inappropriate and intimidating, and can definitely be classed as bullying.
  3. They gossip behind your back. Some gossip is to be expected in any work environment, but when the water cooler conversations become malicious or involve the spreading of cruel rumours, things have gone too far. Your private life should remain private, so any gossip that damages your professional reputation should be seen as malicious bullying behaviour.
  4. They humiliate you. There’s a time and a place for calling out mistakes at work. If your colleague makes a point of criticising your work or actions publically so that others hear, belittles your opinions in meetings or make you feel embarrassed and uncomfortable at work, there’s definitely cause for concern.
  5. They sabotage your attempts to make progress in your career. A little workplace competition can be healthy, but a colleague who deliberately prevents you from receiving the promotion you deserve or attempts to take credit for work that you have put time and effort into, is verging into bullying territory. This can also apply if they undermine your work in front of superiors, impeding your attempts to advance your career.
  6. They take work away from you. Having too much work piled up is certainly a problem, but taking work away without good cause can be, too. If you find yourself having responsibilities removed without any explanation, being demoted, or consistently given too little to do, making you feel relatively useless at the office, you may be a victim of workplace bullying.

Reasonable Management Action Guide

Determining whether management action is reasonable requires an objective assessment in the context of the circumstances and knowledge of those involved at the time. The consequences that flowed from the management action taken, and the emotional state and psychological health of the worker involved, may also be relevant.


Reasonable management action may include: Performance management processes, disciplinary action for misconduct, informing a worker about unsatisfactory work performance or inappropriate work behaviour, asking a worker to perform reasonable duties in keeping with their job, or maintaining reasonable workplace goals and standards.


For management action to be reasonable there has to be some line of cause and effect between conduct, behaviour or performance of an employee and the relevant management action. Additionally, it has to be a reasonable and proportionate response to the attributes of the employee to which it is directed.


The aim of this assessment is to assist the investigator in determining whether a specific management action has been reasonable and not whether it could have been undertaken in a manner that was ‘more reasonable’ or ‘more acceptable’. In general, consider the following:


  • Management actions do not need to be perfect or ideal to be considered reasonable.
  • A course of action may still be ‘reasonable action’ even if particular steps are not.
  • Any ‘unreasonableness’ must arise from the actual management action in question, rather than the worker’s perception of it.
  • Consideration may be given as to whether the management action involved a significant departure from established policies or procedures, and if so, whether the departure was reasonable in the circumstances.
  • The impact on the employee cannot by itself establish whether or not the management action was carried out in a reasonable manner, and some degree of humiliation may often be the consequence of a manager exercising his or her legitimate authority at work.
  • Unreasonable refusal of leave or requirements to work additional hours, do not on their own amount to bullying and harassment but like all behaviours must be considered carefully within the incidents raised in dispute.



The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has received around a thousand applications seeking for an order to stop bullying. There are, however, few cases where orders have been made. Nevertheless, the cases offer important guidance in understanding what the Commission considers to be reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable way. Down below are some examples according to the findings of the FWC regarding reasonable management action. To access more detailed examples please refer to the FWC Benchbook (Appendix X, pages 47-53 or visit)


  • While it is preferable to have a documented and transparent performance management policy, the Commission may still find management action is reasonable in its absence.


  • Employers must be able to justify their use of a performance management process or have some flexibility in their process, and it may be by reference to evidence that the process used was a common practice in the circumstances.


  • Directing someone to go home for not wearing a prescribed uniform does not constitute bullying.


  • Although the Commission found an applicant’s health and safety negatively impacted by what happened at work and found one instance of unreasonable behaviour, it was not satisfied there were ‘repeated’ incidents of unreasonable behaviour which were not reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner.


  • Being criticised, picked on and singled out concerning poor work performance in front of other staff in a meeting, although being a regular weekly one, is not consider reasonable management action if the purpose of that meeting is other than discussing the worker’s performance.


  • Failure to be promoted is not an unreasonable measure if all applicable guidelines have been followed.


  • Caution should be exercised when considering whether payment of a discretionary bonus could be considered workplace bullying. An applicant’s belief that he should have been paid more did not constitute workplace bullying unless payment of the discretionary bonus was applied in a punitive manner.


  • Although an employer’s performance management policy made no reference to performance improvement plans, it was a standard means to achieve improvement. Its use by the employer was reasonable as previous performance development assessments identified areas for improvement.


  • A performance management process can be found not to be reasonable if there’s no evidence or documentation regarding a worker’s alleged underperformance.


  • Having someone being monitored and mentored to improve performance is not, per se, unreasonable management action. However, if guidelines on monitoring and mentoring are not followed and feedback is not provided during the process, the action is not carried out in a reasonable manner.


Workplace Investigation Interview Recordings: To record or not?

Investigation Interview Transcripts


To record or not record workplace interviews?


Leave the audio recorder for the police detectives.


The audio recording offers you be most accurate account of the interview conversation however, the presence of the audio recorder during a workplace investigation interview can make people nervous and inhibit open disclosure.


As an Organisational Psychologist, I believe that the workplace investigator and investigation process needs to match the workplace setting and the potential implications if the outcomes of the investigation are found to be true. For most of the investigations I am called in for the presence of an audio recorder would be ‘over the top’ and not appropriate for the potential outcomes of the investigation.


If the outcome of the allegations is unlikely to amount to serious or gross misconduct (if found to be true) or a dismissal or a criminal charge then leave the audio recordings for the police detectives.


During investigations I prefer to prepare an interview Memorandum.


What is an Investigation Interview Memorandum?


The memorandum of the investigation interview is a specific document that records the interviewee’s comments. It is a numbered document, each paragraph is numbered and every paragraph is one thought that the subject expressed.


I allow subjects to edit and sign the completed memorandum of interview, so they have the opportunity to provide as much information as possible.


As an Organisational Psychologist my expertise is in providing expert Human Resources advice for workplace investigations that involve sensitive interpersonal matters that involve bullying, performance management or other disciplinary matters.


My approach to investigations is interpersonal and sensitive, I have significant experience assisting organisations in the Health, Not for Profit and Private Sector and I believe these investigations need to be sensitive to the staff and organisational culture.


Preparing for your workplace investigation

Preparing for your workplace investigation

 To help minimise the cost of an external investigator we suggest that you prepare the following information:

  • Review of applicable company policies, including how they are communicated to employees, whether followed, etc.;
  • Summary of the complaint, including how the employer received notice, as well as a chronology of important events;
  • The names and identities of all relevant witnesses with notes on relevant background and relationships to complainant and accused; relevant employment information of the complainant, the accused and the key witnesses;
  • Specific information for each identified incident (who, what, when, where, why);
  • Identity of other possible witnesses, new leads and new documents;
  • A conflict check procedure to resolve conflicting witness accounts without identifying the witness; and
  • Potentially related claims and relevant information.

If your HR department has not been identified as a serious conflict of interest in the investigation process costs can be minimised by having them assist with the referencing of investigation documents and their collection.

How to prevent fall out from workplace investigation reports

It is critical that the workplace investigation report is perceived as procedurally fair by employees. Research demonstrates that employees will be more likely to accept the outcome of an investigation they do not like, if it is perceived as procedurally fair.

Protocols for procedural fairness in workplace investigations

  • Established procedures for investigation and resolution or reports
  • Consistently following procedures
  • The investigator is perceived as neutral and conducts the investigation in a neutral and unbiased manner
  • The reporting and accused are given plenty of time to have their side of the story heard
  • The investigator considers issues raised by all parties

The purpose of an investigation report

The purpose of the investigation report is to advise the decision maker of the following:

  • Did the alleged misconduct more likely than not occur?
    • And/or
  • Did the alleged misconduct more likely than not occur for an improper purpose?
  • If the alleged conduct occurred, was it a violation of policy?

Investigations may often have two purposes:

  1. Policy determinations – policies can be unclear, investigator needs to understand how the policies have been interpreted in the past.
  2. Legal determinations – should be avoided by non-legal professionals and even if you are a legal professional; avoid being a jury of one.

Tips for writing workplace investigation reports:

  • Start by creating a chronology of events as supported by subjects – use a chart where possible
  • Acknowledge all points of view in the chronology/timeline of events
  • Use neutral reference to all parties e.g., respondent and complainant as opposed to victim and perpetrator.
  • Cite the exact words used by subjects instead of describing what was said or done.
  • Document participation of the employer and all subjects interviewed.
  • Make clear report findings

Please note that it is critical that the above steps are followed to ensure an outcome that is perceived as procedurally fair to all parties.

If you would like more information about our investigation services you can access it here: A resolution workplace investigations or call 1300 ARESOLVE.

Bullying and Harassment Vs Reasonable Management Action

Bullying and Harassment Claims against Managers

on the Rise

Protecting your manager’s right to performance manage.

A staggering 70% of claims of bullying and harassment are from employees towards their managers. Changes to the Fair Work Act mean that complaints are not subject to the scrutiny of a third party and require more rigorous investigations.

The majority of claims of bullying and harassment made are not substantiated but these claims can cost your organisation a lot of time and money.

The worker genuinely feels aggrieved and believes their complaint is bullying but often it is not.

All bullying and harassment allegations need to be investigated thoroughly from the beginning to the end.

Bullying and harassment claims on the rise

One of the major reasons for the rise of unsubstantiated bullying and harassment claims is that there is a lack of clarity about the meaning of bullying and harassment. The definition of bullying needs to be translated into practical terms for all workers. What is bullying? What is not bullying? What types of inappropriate behaviour constitute or don’t constitute bullying? How do you deal with inappropriate behaviour if it is not bullying?

Bullying and harassment vs reasonable management action
The Fair Work Act protects managers from a bullying claim if they are carrying out reasonable management actions in a reasonable manner. Reasonable management action includes:

  • Performance appraisals
  • Measuring under performance
  • Counselling workers for misconduct and implementing discipline about that.
  • Modifying workers duties

It is important that your employees understand that reasonable management action is not bullying and that managers know how to carry out reasonable management actions in a reasonable way.

A resolution training and consultation services can help you prevent, manage and respond to workplace bullying and harassment claims through the following services:

1. Bullying and harassment training for employees and managers (in-house)

2. G rievance management and investigation
(training and consulting)

3. Performance management and disciplinary training

Our in training starts at $300/pp minimum booking of 10 people.

If you would like more information PH 1300 ARESOLVE to book a complimentary consultation