Western Sydney University is strongly committed to providing a safe and inclusive working and learning environment with a positive culture. Under the Commonwealth Fair Work Act (2009), we are also legally obligated to prevent and stop any workplace bullying within the university with all managers/supervisors sharing this responsibility.
To support our managers/supervisors, the Office of Equity and Diversity (OED) have designed a series of workshops that will cover:
- key legislation and policy regarding bullying in the workplace and relevant responsibilities;
- ways to mitigate bullying risks in higher education settings; and
- practice advice on responding to arising bullying issues and situations in university settings. Previously, over 95% of post-workshop evaluation respondents reported an improved understanding of the nature of bullying, recent legislative changes, leadership responsibilities and best practice.
To find out when the next training will be held, search through mystaff online or check out the Equity and Diversity Training Page.
What is bullying
According to University Policy bullying happens when someone displays a pattern of behaviour that is unreasonable, and intimidates, degrades or humiliates a person or persons, and/or creates a risk to their safety, wellbeing, and emotional and physical health. Bullying is:
- unacceptable at Western Sydney University
- a Work Health and Safety issue
- may include, unlawful behaviours such as discrimination, harassment (including sexual harassment), vilification, and workplace violence
- may involve misuse of informal or formal power
- can take place wherever people work and study together
- can be subtle and difficult to detect
- can be perpetrated equally by males and females
- can take place between staff (sideways, upwards and downwards)staff and students, students and other students, and between staff or students and another person on campus
- can be intentional, where the bully intends to intimidate, degrade or humiliate
- can be unintentional, where although not intended, the bully has intimidated, degraded or humiliated
- can be overt, where the bullying behaviours can be seen by others
- can be covert, where the bullying behaviours are not seen by others
Examples of bullying
Remember, in order for behaviour to fall within the definition of bullying, it must happen a number of times and it must be unreasonable. If one of the following examples happens once, it is not bullying, but may constitute unacceptable professional conduct, which breaches University policy.
Examples of overt bullying behaviours include:
- Verbal abuse - yelling, screaming, shouting, aggressive or abusive or offensive language, personal insults, name-calling, sarcasm
- Teasing or regularly being made the brunt of pranks/practical jokes, particularly after an objection has been made known
- Inappropriate comments about a person's appearance or personal life
- Defamation of individuals or their family or associates
- Threatening behaviour including physical gestures
- Unwelcomed physical contact
- Non-constructive criticism about work or academic performance,
- Demeaning, insulting and derogatory remarks
- Requesting unachievable deadlines, assigning excessive workloads or demeaning tasks on one employee
- Minimising or non-acknowledgement of contribution to team activities
- Denying appropriate breaks/leave
- Deliberately changing work schedules to inconvenience particular employees
- Handling the personal effects or work equipment of other employees without reasonable justification
- Abusive and inappropriate emails or phone calls, either in nature or frequency
Examples of covert bullying behaviours include:
- Excluding or isolating staff or students from normal work/study interaction without justification
- Dispensing punishment, blaming, 'ganging up', preferential treatment for an individual/group to the detriment of others
- Punitive sanctions that impede a person's work or academic progress
- Ignoring the staff member or student
- Withholding work/study information or resources required for effective work/academic performance (for example time, leave, training, support, equipment)
- Displaying written or pictorial material which degrades or offends an individual.
These lists do not include all possible examples of bullying behaviours. Other types of behaviour may also constitute bullying.
Bullying is not
Bullying is not a single display of unacceptable professional behaviour, such as the following:
- a manager/supervisor managing and supervising staff or students fairly, appropriately, impartially and professionally
- reasonable actions by a manager/supervisor to allocate and manage work or study
- reasonable instances of guidance, counselling, disciplining, or managing the work/study performance of staff or students
- invoking unsatisfactory performance procedures or misconduct procedures
- applying student progress and misconduct procedures, academic integrity procedures, or assessment due dates.
Reporting of bullying
Bullying is not always reported due to staff and students:
- not recognising the bullying behaviour
- not knowing the reporting procedure
- fear of retribution or ‘payback’ from the bully, or isolation from colleagues or fellow students
- believes no-one will respond to their complaint
- fear being labelled a complainer or weak
- believe complaining will damage their career or study prospects
- accept bullying as a normal part of the organisational culture
Why do people bully?
Bullies often have low self-esteem or they have been a victim of bullying themselves and they are using bullying as a way of making themselves feel more powerful. Bullies show their weaknesses through their abuse of power.
Bullying behaviour may also arise from:
- poor communication
- lack of knowledge or skills
- inability to deal with people who are different to them or whom they do not like or value
- a lack of comfort with diversity and different styles of working
The effects of bullying
Some effects of bullying can show up immediately as discomfort/unease or the victim may feel 'humiliated', 'degraded' or 'undermined'. Other effects may develop over time as the bullying behaviour gradually erodes an individual's or group's confidence, self-esteem and work/study performance.
Effects on those experiencing bullying may include:
- stress related illnesses, including headaches, nausea, insomnia
- loss of confidence
- reduced self-esteem
- depression and a range of mental health conditions
- suicidal thoughts
- social isolation, absenteeism, overworking
- reduced performance at work or in study
- fear of an inability to continue working or studying due to the effects of bullying
- fear of losing employment/study opportunity and economic/career devastation.
Effects on those witnessing bullying may include:
- fear that they might be the next target and therefore withdraw or resign
- guilt that they are not stopping the behaviour
- anger and resentment that nothing is being done about it
- fear of retribution if they intervene or take sides.
Effects on the University environment (study or work):
- reduced employee or student productivity and motivation
- increased absenteeism
- breakdown in communication and teamwork
- loss of experienced and skilled staff through resignation
- increased student drop-out rates
- increased workers compensations claims and costs
- reduced commitment and respect for the organisation
- damaged organisational reputation
What can you do if you are bullied or you witness bullying?
What you can do about bullying differs on the circumstance and your role at the University. Whether you are a victim, a bully, or a witness you have a responsibility to take action and there are many options available to you to do something about bullying. If you are a manager or supervisor you have a legal duty to deal with bullying that is reported to you.If you are being bullied or have witnessed it there are a range of things that you can do. The list of options below is not exhaustive and the order is not prescriptive - it is a list of suggestions that can assist you to take action. Every situation is different.
Option 1 – Think about the situation
Take some time to think about the situation - try to shed some light on what is going on and ask yourself what is causing the conflict and why the person might be behaving in the way you perceive. Also, consider whether the behaviours that are upsetting you are bullying as defined above.
Option 2 – Don’t be isolated
Don't be isolated - talk to someone, like a colleague, a fellow student, a family member, or a friend, about the bullying. Discuss whether the bully's behaviour is unreasonable and if there is anything you can do to improve the situation and feel stronger.
Option 3 – Record bullying behaviours
Record the behaviours that you think amount to bullying - make sure you describe the behaviours that are upsetting you and note the date, time, place, and who else was around. Also record the effect that the bullying has had on you - for example: what have you felt at work or when studying, at home, did you take days off, and have you been to the doctor.
Option 4 – Get some support
Get some support - you can do this within the university such as contacting the Student Support Services if you are a student. Or the Employee Assistance Program. You can also look for a counsellor outside of work, in places such as local health centres or your medical centre.
Option 5 – Seek information and advice
Seek information and get some advice - read the Bullying Prevention Policy and Guidelines to check that the situation falls within the definition of bullying. If you are a student, contact Student Support Services and ask them for advice about your options. If you are a staff member, you can contact the Complaints Resolution Unit, your HR Advisor or Senior HR Partner, or Equity and Diversity.
Option 6 – Make a decision about your options
Decide which option you want to take - you may want to sort it out completely by yourself or you may want to work with others to address the situation. Note that you must report the bullying to your manager/supervisor and once they are aware of the bullying, they have a duty of care to do something about it according to the particular circumstances.
Option 7 – Complete WHS form
Complete a Work Health and Safety Accident and Incident Report Form outlining the problem and the steps you have taken to address the situation.
Option 8 - Report the bullying to a manager/supervisor
If you are a student, report it to your lecturer or Director of Academic Programs. If you are a staff member report bullying to your manager/supervisor and if that person is the bully, then report it to their manager/supervisor. Remember to use your notes to show that the behaviour is bullying. That is, that it is a pattern of unreasonable behaviour that has affected your health and well-being. Ask your manager/supervisor what will happen next. Your manager/supervisor or lecturer/head of school has a duty of care to you as a staff member or student, so they will have to choose an appropriate response to the report of bullying. The response will depend on the situation.
Option 9 - Talk to the bully
Try to talk to the bully if you feel you can. It may help the other person realise the effects of their behaviour on you and they may stop the bullying.
Option 10 - Stay informed
Stay informed - ask your manager/supervisor for regular updates on the progress of the matter and if there is anything that you need to do.
Option 11 - Make a formal internal complaint
Make a formal internal complaint - If the matter has not been resolved you can make a formal internal complaint about a serious matter to the Complaints Resolution Unit. They will ask you what you have done to try to resolve it at your local level before they act on the complaint. See the Complaints Handling and Resolution Policy.
What to do if someone reports bullying to you?
The steps suggested are based on the procedure outlined in the Bullying Prevention Policy (open in a new window – link to ) and Guidelines. You may add options suited to the circumstances of the case to these steps to facilitate the resolution of the situation reported to you.
Step 1 – Listen
Actively listen to the report of bullying when someone makes a complaint of bullying to you. Listen to them without prejudice, that is, as far as possible set aside your ideas about them and the person they are complaining about. Ask questions to get a complete picture of the situation and to ascertain how the person making the complaint is being affected by the bullying.Make notes on what has been reported to you and keep them in a confidential file.
Step 2 – Provide information and advice
Ensure that you provide information to the person reporting the bullying, about the options available to them to deal with the situation. For example: getting support and advice, talking to the bully if appropriate, doing some training, making a complaint, etc. If the person reporting the bullying is a staff member, remind them to complete a Work Health and Safety Accident and Incident Report Form. You should suggest they visit this website and read the Bullying Prevention Policy and Guidelines - provide them with a copy of the policy, guidelines, and relevant section(s) from this website.
Step 3 - Assess your role
Once an allegation of bullying has been reported, you have a duty of care to respond to the situation. The response that you make depends on the circumstances of the case and the seriousness of the allegations. If the person reporting the bullying has asked you not to do anything about it and to maintain confidentiality, you need to explain that you have a duty to act and that you need to assess the situation and decide which action is most appropriate. In relation to confidentiality, you need to explain that you can only maintain confidentiality to the extent that it does not impede your duty of care towards them.
Step 4 - Assess the situation
Consider the evidence provided to you, the particular circumstances of the case, and assess whether the behaviour reported to you falls within the definition of bullying. This is not a simple task and we strongly advice that you seek assistance from your HR Advisor or Senior HR Partner, and Equity and Diversity, if the complaint is against a staff member, or Policy and Governance if the complaint is against a student.
TIP: In order to assess whether bullying is occurring, you may:
- pay particular attention to the behaviour of the alleged bully, particularly in relation to the person making the complaint
- talk to the alleged bully and any witnesses
- make notes on the situation
- discuss matter with an appropriate University staff member
If you decide that the behaviour does not fall within the definition of bullying you still need to act to address the situation. It may be that the situation represents a breakdown in communication, unacceptable professional conduct or non-academic misconduct, unlawful behaviour such as discrimination, harassment, or vilification, or another adverse behaviour. Seek advice and support in addressing the situation because these areas of responsibility are complex and you have a legal duty to act appropriately.
If the behaviour does fall within the definition of bullying, your actions need to be appropriate for the situation and follow the procedure in the Bullying Policy. Here are some suggested actions:
Raise the issue at staff meeting or class
At your next staff meeting or class raise the issue of bullying or group communication and remind staff or students of the requirements for respect and inclusion under Western Sydney University policy. The aim of this is to send a message to all staff and students about the issue without specifically bringing it up with the alleged bully.
Talk to the alleged bully
Organise a meeting with the alleged bully somewhere that is private and otherwise appropriate - they may wish to bring a support person along. Sensitively tell the person of the behaviours that concern you and the effects that they are having. Allow them to explain their behaviours from their perspective. Explain that regardless of the reasons for their behaviour, such behaviour is not acceptable at the University, is against University policy, and it should be stopped immediately. Explain that regardless of whether they feel that they have been behaving in a bullying manner, that to continue behaving in that way may have serious consequences for them. Offer the alleged bully opportunities for personal or professional development to address the problematic behaviours. Explain to the person that you will follow the procedures in the Bullying Policy. You should suggest they visit this website and read the Bullying Prevention Policy and Guidelines - provide them with a copy of the policy, guidelines, and the relevant section(s) from this website.
Meet with aggrieved person
Two weeks after your first action, organise to meet with the person that reported the problem and ask them if the bullying has stopped.
If the bullying has not stopped, assess whether mediation is suitable and recommend to both parties that they participate in mediation to resolve the issue. It is important that the aggrieved person does not feel obliged to attend the mediation, especially if they are fearful. If the parties agree to participate and they are staff members contact your HR Advisor or Senior HR Partner, for assistance. If the parties do not agree to mediation inform them of the next steps that you will take. If the bullying is by a student contact Student Support Services.
Step 5 - Complete OHS form
If the behaviour amounts to bullying you need to fill in a Work Health and Safety Accident and Incident Report Form outlining the problem and the steps you have taken to address the situation.
Step 6 - Report bullying to the Complaints Resolution Unit
Report bullying to the Complaints Resolution Unit - they will log your complaint on their database and case manage the matter, including following up on progress. This does not mean that the Complaints Resolution Unit will investigate the alleged bullying - that may occur when a formal internal complaint is made.
Step 7 - Report bullying to HR Business Partner
Report bullying to your HR Advisor or Senior HR Partner - if the alleged bullying is by a staff member, although you may have previously spoken to OPC about the issue, at this point you need to formally notify your Senior HR Partner of the situation and what you have done to address the issue. OPC will provide you with support to deal with the situation and will ask you, after a two week period, whether the bullying has stopped. If the bullying has not stopped, OPC will investigate the matter by speaking to all relevant parties and making specific recommendations on how to resolve the matter. You need to implement the recommendations and report back to OPC on the progress of the matter.
- Code of Conduct Western Sydney University is committed to demonstrating high standards of personal and professional conduct. These standards are outlined in this Code of Conduct and together establish the ethical framework within which we must all - employees, members of Board and committees constituted within the University - operate.
- Student Code of Conduct Students are a fundamental part of the University and student participation is important. This code aims to provide a simple and clear statement of expectations related to student conduct in academic work and inter-personal relationships when at university.
- Bullying Prevention Guidelines These guidelines provide information to assist employees and students understand their rights and responsibilities in relation to bullying behaviour at the University.
- Bullying Prevention Policy Western Sydney University is committed to ensuring a safe and healthy working and learning environment that is free from bullying, as required under the New South Wales Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and associated regulations, standards and codes of practice. Under common law, the University also has a duty of care to provide a learning environment for students that is free from bullying.
- Academic and Professional Staff Agreements
The following courses are available through the MyCareer Portal at StaffOnLine.
- Creating a Positive Culture A series of workshops with a blend of learning activities including short lectures, small-group discussion, reading, self-reflection and activities designed to promote a positive culture at work and provide practical strategies and skills for enhancing well-being, resilience and optimal functioning.
- Equal Opportunity Module 1 (Online) This module is designed specifically for higher education employees and forms part of the University's commitment to creating a positive environment in which all students and staff are treated fairly and equitably.
- Equal Opportunity Module 2 (Online) This module is designed specifically for higher education employees and forms part of the University's commitment to creating a positive environment in which all students and staff are treated fairly and equitably.
- No Nastiness Please - We're at Work This interactive session covers the responsibilities of all University staff, including a discussion of the relevant policy and legislation framework. The session will highlight that it is everyone's responsibility to work towards an inclusive workplace culture and will distinguish between discrimination, harassment, bullying and other disrespectful anti-social and negative workplace behaviours.
- Online Orientation In this module you will gain an understanding of our commitment and your responsibility, to providing a work and study environment for staff and students which is academically rewarding, equitable and culturally diverse and inclusive.
- WHS Module 3 - Office Safety (Online) Western Sydney University is progressive in addressing the issue of workplace stress and negative work behaviours. This module gives you the opportunity to become aware of workplace stress, bullying and also provides you with the relevant information and resources.
Factsheets about bullying
Factsheets about Bullying are available on the Adverse Behaviour Factsheet page.
These publications are useful resources for managers and workers responding to workplace bullying.
- Safe Work Australia: Guide for preventing and responding to workplace bullying. Dealing with workplace bullying - a workers' guide.
- Fair Work Commission: Anti-bullying web page and Anti-Bullying Guide
Contacts and support:
- HR Advisor or Senior HR Partner, or Complaints Resolution Unit
- Employee Assistance Program
- Equity and Diversity
- Student Welfare Service
- Work Health and Safety