Policy Agenda

Bullying and harassment in the workplace

            To access the other Diversity & Inclusion policies released by the Law Council, click here

The Law Council is committed toward ensuring that all members for the legal profession are treated fairly and respectfully. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) states that ‘all employers have a responsibility to make sure that their employees, and people who apply for a job with them, are treated fairly’. To ensure that employees are not discriminated against, harassed or bullied, workplaces should develop and implement workplace practices to address inappropriate workplace behaviour and respond to complaints effectively. Below are some examples of resources from the Law Council’s Constituent Bodies to assist legal practices in developing workplace practices and policies to effectively educate employees, and respond to complaints regarding workplace bullying and harassment.

What is the law in relation to workplace bullying and harassment?

Under anti-discrimination law, it is unlawful to treat a person less favourably on the basis of particular protected attributes such as a person’s gender, sexual orientation, race, disability or age. Examples of unlawful actions can include harassing or bullying a person. Workplace anti-discrimination law is set out in federal and state statutes. There are specific legal provisions for sexual harassment, racial hatred and disability harassment.

Bullying is defined under section 789FD of the Fair Work Amendment Act 2013 (Cth) as when an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behave unreasonably towards a worker and that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Bullying includes a range of behaviours such as:

Harassment provisions are included across a range of legislation, including the following:

There is equal opportunity legislation in each State and Territory which also deals with sexual harassment at work.

According to the AHRC, some examples of harassment include:

Sexual harassment can also include stalking, leering or unwelcome touching, which may have implications under criminal law.

An employer’s duty of care to its employees may be breached if bullying occurs within the workplace. Persons held accountable for such behaviour can face prosecution under the Occupation Health and Safety Act 2004 (Cth). Employers should also be aware of any relevant work health and safety legislation in each state and territory.

The Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules and Legal Profession Uniform Conduct (Barristers) Rules outline a common set of professional obligations and ethical principles solicitors and barristers are bound by when practicing, including when dealing with their fellow legal practitioners. This includes the following rule:

42. ANTI-DISCRIMINATION AND HARRASSMENT
42.1 A solicitor must not in the course of practice, engage in conduct which constitutes:
42.1.1 discrimination;
42.1.2 sexual harassment; or
42.1.3 workplace bullying.

The Rules rely on the definition of bullying and harassment as exists under the applicable state, territory or federal anti-discrimination or human rights legislation. For more information visit the Law Council’s webpage.

Resources to effectively address harassment and bullying in legal practice

A number of the Law Council’s Constituent Bodies and other legal organisations have resources that may assist workplaces in developing and implementing workplace bullying and harassment policies, including the following:

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