Improve Your Practice

Bullying and harassment can happen in any workplace, but you have a responsibility as a practice manager to foster a positive harassment-free work culture and to have a bullying and harassment prevention policy in place.

Providing a healthy and safe working environment

The responsibility to prevent workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination is covered in the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act by the duty to provide a healthy and safe working environment and safe systems of work. From 1 January 2014, an eligible worker who reasonably believes they have been bullied at work may apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the workplace bullying.


Harassment is unwelcome conduct that humiliates, offends or intimidates people. It’s not only harmful to the victim, but also to the success of your business by lowering productivity and increasing staff turnover.

Sexual harassment is defined as the behaviour, which occurs when:

  • the person makes an unwelcome sexual advance, or an unwelcome request for sexual favours, to the other person or
  • the person engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the other person
  • a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated, or intimidated.


Bullying can have an impact on an individual’s health and affect their ability to do their job. Workplace bullying is characterised by persistent and repeated negative behaviour directed at an employee that creates a risk to health and safety. Bullying is a form of workplace harassment that employers must address. Bullying behaviour includes:

  • unfair and excessive criticism
  • publicly insulting victims
  • constantly changing or setting unrealistic work targets
  • undervaluing employees’ efforts at work
  • non-verbal bullying e.g. exclusion, ignoring
  • cyber bullying.

Bullying and harassment prevention policy

The objective of policy on bullying and harassment is to eliminate harassment, bullying and victimisation at work and provide a productive working environment where all employees are respected and valued.

A bullying and harassment prevention policy should include/state that the practice:

  • provides a commitment, signed by the practice principals/management, to a workplace environment that values people and is free from bullying or harassment
  • clearly defines what is meant by bullying or harassment, including electronic harassment, and gives examples and outlines processes for dealing with bullying or harassment complaints
  • makes it clear that the policy protects all employees from bullying or harassment by managers, fellow employees, clients and other contract workers on site
  • staff should be made aware that the policy covers all work situations – including social events and any form of social media communication that may affect the employee or workplace
  • provides a commitment to prompt action in response to a complaint within a specified timeframe
  • requires that a respondent to a complaint be informed promptly of the complaint and the evidence to support it and have an opportunity and realistic timeframe in which to respond
  • prohibits victimisation of those taking action under the policy
  • provides for and identifies a range of options for complainants and procedures to support them and prevent victimisation.

These are applied together with criteria common to all people management policy:

  • It is based on relevant information including consultation with a cross-section of staff and analysis of equal employment opportunity (EEO) and other data.
  • It identifies clear objectives.
  • It is written in plain English, is issued in media accessible to all staff, including visually or hearing-impaired staff, and is readily available for all staff in all locations.
  • It provides for training appropriate to the specific roles of all staff involved.
  • It requires documentation and a rationale of all decisions, ie transparency.
  • It identifies the responsibilities of relevant managers and staff for implementation.
  • It protects individual privacy.
  • It provides for a right of review of any decision under the policy.
  • It states the action that will be taken if the policy is breached.
  • It provides for periodic review of the policy in terms of any differential impact on EEO groups.

Everyone at your practice has a work health and safety duty under Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws and can help to ensure workplace bullying does not occur. Persons conducting a business or undertaking have the primary duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that workers and other people are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from the business or undertaking. Workers and other people at a workplace have a duty to take reasonable care that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of others.

Modelling appropriate behaviour

Leadership and training needs to be focussed on developing behaviour which promotes positive working relationships, as well as on preventing harassing behaviour. This should include awareness of cultural, disability and gender (including transgender) issues.

Practice managers and practice principals should lead by example in promoting a harassment-free workplace by modelling and promoting the policy.

The responsibility of practice managers is to ensure staff know their responsibilities under the policy and to promote the policy among staff. They should model appropriate behaviour, by:

  • acting promptly on complaints and other evidence of harassment or bullying
  • ensuring confidentiality of complaints within the requirements of the law
  • ensuring no victimisation of complainants
  • ensuring respondents to a complaint are informed promptly of the complaint and its substance and have an opportunity and realistic timeframe in which to respond to it.


Confidentiality should be ensured by stating that only the parties to a grievance, and the investigator or contact officer immediately involved should know about it. The only exceptions are where there is personal danger or potential for criminal proceedings.

Confidential records should be maintained and kept in a secure location by the investigator or contact officer during the processing of all complaints. Records of complaints should not be kept after they are resolved or placed on personal files unless the complaint resulted in formal counselling, disciplinary or legal action.


A range of contact people should be trained and available for initial consultation by complainants. However, such contact/support people should have no role in the resolution of complaints. Those with the responsibility for resolving complaints should have it as part of their position description. They should have the authority to recommend and ensure appropriate action in response to the complaint.

Anonymous details of date, type of complaint, and EEO group membership of complainant may be kept for purposes of analysis.

A workplace survey can assess the extent of the experience of harassment. This can be compared with the numbers of complaints that are made to provide an indication of the level of confidence employees feel in the procedures.

The practice should take complaints seriously and ensure that an appropriate response requires a variety of options for complainants from confidential support and advice to mediation, informal complaint or formal grievance. Respondents, too, are entitled to prompt notification of a complaint. Responsiveness also involves sensitivity to diverse cultural and gender attitudes to the experience and perpetration of harassment.

Actions to manage the risk of workplace bullying



Consult with workers and health and safety representatives (if any).

Set the standard of workplace behaviour, e.g. through a code of conduct or workplace bullying policy.

Design safe systems of work by clearly defining jobs and providing workers with the resources, information and training they need to carry out their work safely.

Develop productive and respectful workplace relationships through good management practices and effective communication.

Provide information, training and supervision.

Review the effectiveness of actions taken to prevent workplace bullying.

Implement workplace bullying reporting and response procedures.

Respond to bullying reports quickly.

Treat all reports seriously.

Maintain confidentiality.

Allow the parties to explain their version of events.

Remain neutral and impartial towards everyone involved.

Communicate the process for responding to reports and the outcomes to all involved parties.

Provide support, e.g. employee assistance programs.

Attempt to resolve the matter.

Conduct a follow-up review.

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This publication is proudly brought to you by Avant Mutual Group. The content was authored by Brett McPherson, reviewed by Colleen Sullivan and Avant Mutual Group.

This publication is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practice proper clinical decision making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgment or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published. © Avant Mutual Group Limited 2014.

IMPORTANT: Professional indemnity insurance products and Avant’s Practice Medical Indemnity Policy are issued by Avant Insurance Limited, ABN 82 003 707 471, AFSL 238 765. The information provided here is general advice only. You should consider the appropriateness of the advice having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs before deciding to purchase or continuing to hold a policy with us. For full details including the terms, conditions, and exclusions that apply, please read and consider the policy wording and PDS, which is available at or by contacting us on 1800 128 268. Practices need to consider other forms of insurance including directors’ and officers’ liability, public and products liability, property and business interruption insurance, and workers compensation and you should contact your insurance broker for more information. Cover is subject to the terms, conditions and exclusions of the policy. Any advice here does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider whether the product is appropriate for you before deciding to purchase or continuing to hold a policy with us.