A worker may feel bullied when an employer takes performance or disciplinary action. If this action is ‘reasonable management action’, carried out in a reasonable way, the law does not define it as bullying.
What 'reasonable' means
The law accepts that managers and employers may need to act if a worker is not doing their job well. They can take ‘reasonable management action’ to:
- help the employee improve their work
- address poor performance or behaviour.
It is ‘reasonable management action’ for an employer to:
- start performance management processes (such as a performance improvement plan)
- take disciplinary action for misconduct
- tell a worker about work performance that is not satisfactory
- tell a worker their behaviour at work is not appropriate
- ask a worker to perform reasonable duties as part of their job
- take action to maintain reasonable workplace standards.
But the way the employer takes these actions must also be ‘reasonable’. If they are not reasonable, and they are repeated, these actions could still be bullying.
What to do when action is not reasonable
An employee may complain if they believe their employer’s action is:
- not reasonable OR
- not carried out in a reasonable way.
Actions employees can take
First, talk to your HR team. If the organisation you work for doesn't have a human resources team, speak to a senior manager. They can give you advice on what is reasonable. They could also tell you what options are available to address your concerns.
You may also be able to ask for help or advice from your union.
We cannot give you legal advice, but you can find legal help that may be free if you are eligible.
If you believe the action is bullying, find out steps you can take to stop it.
Actions employers or principals can take
To understand what is reasonable, talk to your HR team. Employers may also be able to seek advice and help from:
- employer associations
- chambers of commerce
- peak industry bodies
- our Workplace Advice Service.
You can learn more about Performance Management and warnings from the Fair Work Ombudsman.