Bullying

Browse our resources below to help you identify potential bullying behaviour and how to prevent and report bullying. Please do call our helpline if you need support or advice on dealing with bullying.

WorkSafe Victoria defines bullying as “repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards an employee or group of employees, which creates a risk to health, both mental and physical, and safety.” For example workplace bullying is when you are verbally, physically, socially or psychologically hurt by your employer (or manager), or another person or group of people at work. Generally, bullying is repetitive and an ongoing event often with minor actions which accumulate to create a hostile work environment.

What is workplace bullying?

Bullying behaviours typically include some or all of the following1,2:

  • Intimidation and threats
  • Verbal abuse
  • Withholding information that someone needs to do their job
  • Threat to professional status
  • Threat to personal standing
  • Interfering with someone’s property or work equipment
  • Isolation or exclusion
  • Overwork
  • Destabilisation

The main thing to consider when trying to work out whether a behaviour constitutes bullying is if it forms part of a repeated pattern of behaviour. One isolated incident is not generally considered bullying. There is a video below that further explains bullying, and there is more information about ways to address bullying.

Browse through the topics below to find out more about bullying and how to deal with it.

1. Quine L. Workplace bullying in NHS community trust: staff questionnaire survey. BMJ. 1999 Jan 23;318(7178):228-32.
2. WorkSafe Victoria

Some tips for addressing bullying

It is important to recognise the situation if you are a victim of bullying.

  • Make sure you are informed – find out what the organisation’s policies and procedures are for preventing and handling bullying.
  • Keep a diary documenting everything that happens, including times, dates, what was said, what was done and who was there and what you’ve done to try stop it.
  • Tell someone. Report directly to your employer, or a supervisor/manager.
  • If the person doing the bullying is your employer or if they do not do anything to stop it, it’s important that you involve a third party.
  • External information and advice, e.g. from the union representing your industry (Professional Pharmacists of Australia or other union such as the Association of Hospital Pharmacists in Victoria). These organisations can give you advice on your options and your rights.
How bullying can affect your work

If you are being bullied at work, you might:

  • be less productive
  • be less confident in your work
  • feel scared, stressed, anxious or depressed
  • have your life outside of work affected, e.g. study, relationships
  • want to stay away from work (more than usual)
  • feel unable to trust your employer or the people you work with
  • lack confidence and self-esteem in yourself and your work
  • have physical symptoms of stress such as headaches, backaches, gastrointestinal disturbances, anxiety and sleep problems.
What to do if you think someone is being bullied
  • Let them know you care and help them to feel good about themselves
  • Include the person in your group or activities
  • If you see someone is being bullied, it may be helpful to stick up for them ensuring that you don’t make the situation worse or put yourself in danger
  • Saying something to verbally discourage the behaviour can help to prevent it
  • Model ethical and respectful behaviour in your own work
Who to contact if you are concerned about bullying

There are some specific links in the tab at the bottom of this page to direct you to FairWork Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission, and each state and territory Worksafe/Safework website. You can also go to your own state Worksafe website and search ‘bullying’ to be directed to other resources.

Some other options are:

  • Contact your HR department (for larger organisations) or manager
  • Speak to a Union representative (see our Pharmacy Organisations for further details and links, such as to the PPA or Pharmacy Guild, or alternatively our page Useful Links page has other support services listed)
  • Speak to a lawyer for legal advice
  • Contact the police if behaviours involve violence, threats, stalking or sexual assault
  • Speak with your GP or other mental health professionals; you can request a referral to a psychologist if needed
  • Seek out Employee assistance programs
  • For Crisis Support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.
  • If you are seeking a listening ear, emotional support, or advice from a fellow pharmacist, call us here at PSS on 1300 244 910 every day from 8am to 11pm AEST. If the phone is not answered within 10 rings, you can leave a message requesting a call back at a time that suits you.
Preventing bullying

Everyone has the right to work in an environment free from bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence. Raising awareness and education, training and publicity are important steps in preventing bullying. Open communication between staff and management are also essential and will enable potential conflict between staff members to be identified and dealt with quickly and effectively. Organisations which have policies and procedures in place which are well known and understood by employees are better able to prevent and deal with any potential bullying by being pro-active.

Working it out yourself – some tips!

Depending on how bad the bullying is (and as long as you aren’t feeling unsafe, frightened or physically threatened), you might decide to try and work it out yourself first.

  • Avoid the bully if possible. Walk away when approached and try thinking of something else.
  • Stay positive – use positive self-talk.
  • Hang around other people.
  • Be confident – think of the things you do well in and remember you’re a valuable person.

While the video above discusses this, it can be confusing trying to work out what constitutes bullying and what does not.

Sometimes experiences at work can be uncomfortable for those involved, but this does not necessarily mean that workplace bullying has taken place. Pharmacies can be a stressful place in which to work and sometimes, when people are under pressure, differences of opinion, disagreements, interpersonal conflicts, and personality clashes can happen. Employees may also feel upset or undervalued from time to time. These events, while unpleasant, do not generally constitute bullying. A single incident is not bullying, although sometimes conflicts do have the potential to escalate into bullying if they go unchecked. Similarly, instances of performance management are not usually considered to be workplace bullying, if they are done in a fair and reasonable manner.

Managers have the right to direct workers, monitor performance and timeliness, and provide feedback. Some examples of reasonable management action include:

  • performance appraisals
  • ongoing meetings to address employee underperformance
  • setting reasonable performance goals and deadlines
  • investigating alleged misconduct
  • refusing an employee permission to return to work due to illness or medical condition
  • deciding not to select an employee for promotion, after a documented, fair process

Workplace bullying occurs when: ‘an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work, AND the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety’ (Fair Work Commission, Fair Work Act s.789FD(1)).

However, reasonable management action conducted in a reasonable manner does not constitute workplace bullying. Click here to read more at Fair Work Australia.

Sometimes, unreasonable behaviour may involve discrimination or sexual harassment, which is not bullying by itself, but is unlawful and you can seek support for these issues from Fair Work Australia. You can also click here to read more at Safe Work Australia. If behaviour includes violence, threats, stalking, or sexual assault, you can contact your local police by calling 000 within Australia.

If you have been harassed or bullied and you believe this was due to your sex, disability, race, age, sexual preference, religion, criminal record, trade union activity or political opinion, or if you have experienced any sexual harassment, you can contact the Australian Human Rights Commission on 1300 656 419 (local call) or 02 9284 9888, or email infoservice@humanrights.gov.au. There is more information available here.

If you are unsure whether something constitutes bullying in your workplace, check your local state authority website for more information – most will have a number you can call. The details for each state can be found at the bottom of this page. For confidential support or a listening ear, you can call us between 8am – 11pm AEST every day.

PSS in partnership with Vitality Law Australia and the AJP has produced this webinar aimed at all members of the pharmacy profession, equipping you to deal with bullying in the pharmacy workplace. In this webinar, we are joined by a commercial lawyer and a psychologist who is a former community and hospital pharmacist, who share their expertise on the topic of bullying.

Click here to watch the webinar on the AJP website.