Category Archives: Bullying in the News


No More Harm Conference – Melbourne April 2018

Posted on February 21, 2018 in Bullying in the News by editor

Sheila Freeman will be presenting at the No More Harm Conference on Thursday 12th April commencing at 4:02 PM – 4:32 PM the topic is LEADERSHIP ABUSE, REPAIR & RESTORE POSITIVE LEADERSHIP and will be addressing the issues of bullying identified within the Local Government sector.

Numerous cases of bullying have been exposed in the media not only within their organisations but with elected Councillors. In 2016 an independent commission of inquiry was established in the City of Greater Geelong (Victoria) where by the Minister for Local Government, this led to the Council being sacked and administrators appointed. At the City of Burnside (South Australia) the alleged bully was a Councillor who targeted the CEO, staff members and the general public.

In late 2016 a document was tabled in Queensland State Parliament alleging a toxic workplace culture within their local government workforce’s not only in the Southern Downs Regional Council but also Cairns, Tablelands, Fraser Coast and Gympie Regional Councils, and it stated that in some cases staff had committed suicide.

Sheila will specifically be looking at the City of Burnside South Australia, and what are the implications for other councils within Australia following a decision by the Fair Work Commission that it could not hear the stop bullying application as the Council was not a ‘constitutionally-covered business’.

Local Government case studies will be presented where natural justice for alleged perpetrators and victims of bullying has been denied.

Sheila will discuss how a workplace assessment is a positive not a negative, the benefits to organisations and employees and ask why do organisations wait until an issue is identified before conducting an assessment of their workplace?  The cost of an assessment far outweighs the cost of complaints such as WorkCover claims, investigations and litigation, not to mention any adverse publicity to the organisation.






Natural Justice: Sexual Harassment/Bullying complaints:

Posted on December 18, 2017 in Bullying in the News by editor

There are currently two prominent sexual harassment allegations in place, that being Geoffrey Rush and the Lord Mayor of Melbourne Cr. Robert Doyle.

It appears that in both of these allegations the alleged perpetrator has not been given natural justice, as neither Mr. Rush nor Cr. Doyle were informed of the allegations prior to being released to the media.

Mr. Rush stated that:

At the time the complaint was made, the complainant requested that the matter be dealt with confidentially, and did not want Mr. Rush notified or involved in any investigation,” a statement read. The theatre company said it complied “in the interest of the complainant’s health and welfare.”

This then leaves the dilemma, how can a complaint be investigated without the alleged perpetrator being informed of the allegations.  Complainants must feel safe in coming forward and all support must be given, but also Natural Justice must be seen, otherwise organisations are leaving themselves open to litigation as in the case of Mr. Rush who is defending the allegations in Court.

Cr. Doyle has also been denied Natural Justice as the allegations were leaked to the media before he was informed and had the chance of reply.

Cr. Doyle stated in his statement……..I am frustrated that I have not been formally provided the specific allegations which have been strategically released to media which is a denial of natural justice  and clearly damaging to my reputation.

 No matter what the outcome, whether the allegations are substantiated or not substantiated all people have the right of natural justice and procedural fairness.

The Australian Human Rights Commission states: Natural justice and procedural fairness are concepts of administrative law. Employers should observe these concepts in devising and implementing sexual harassment policies. Principles of natural justice and procedural fairness require an employee to be fully informed of a complaint made against them, and to be given an opportunity to respond to the complaint. What is fair and just may differ between different circumstances, but there are three basic requirements.

  • An employee must be given notice of the complaint or allegations against them, and the process by which it is proposed the matter will be resolved.
  • The employee must be given the opportunity to be heard and respond to the complaint or allegations.
  • The decision-maker must act impartially, honestly and without bias.

For further information refer to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s website:



Posted on November 30, 2017 in Bullying in the News by editor

With the ‘outing’ this week of Don Burke by a Fairfax Media/ABC investigation claiming he was a “psychotic bully” it is now time for organisations both large and small to ensure not only sexual harassment is not happening in their workplace but also that psychological bullying is not occurring.

Organisations and businesses need to ‘dust off’ their policies, are they up to date?  Do they need to be reviewed?

Do you have regular training on What is Bullying this should be carried out yearly, it does not need to be onerous just two hours a year could save your organisation the stress and expense of investigations, WorkCover claims and in some cases litigation or workers going to FairWork.

It is a Manager’s responsibility to be aware of any issues that may be occurring in the workplace, and if you start receiving informal complaints the least expensive way to resolve issues between employees is with workplace mediation.

Sheila Freeman Consulting offers workplace investigations, workplace mediations and training to create a Bully Free Workplace, at a reasonable cost.


How to get past a work dispute

Posted on December 20, 2016 in Bullying in the News by editor

After Fair Work returned  a decision ordering Bendigo Health to reinstate an aged care nurse who was sacked for kissing a patient on the forehead, Sheila Freeman was interviewed by journalist Mark Kearney from the Bendigo Advertiser on how can an employee return to work following a dispute:

Bendigo Advertiser:  Saturday December 17 2016

Workplace conflicts can be difficult to overcome and require communication and training, a Bendigo expert has said.

Goldfields Mediation and relationships Centre’s Sheila Freeman said it was not unusual for employees to clash at work, explaining the process could prove costly to both the organisation and the workers involved.

she recommended counselling for the affected parties, or even mediation, as ways to mend the damage done.  “That could be between they hierarchy and the worker, but also, depending on how their co-workers are feeling, they may need some sort of mediation to transition back into it,” Ms Freeman said. “They may need a couple of sessions if there’s some sore of apprehension.  It’s a way of getting people talking again, talking about what happened and how they can move forward.  That process was best conducted by someone independent from outside of the organisation, meaning every party could feel confident no bias was involved, she said.  The counsellor believed training played an important role in the prevention of similar conflicts emerging, saying annual “refreshers” of topics including worker-client boundaries and sexual harassment should be standard practice in all workplaces.  It meant employees stayed abreast of the latest regulations that applied to them at work” Ms. Freeman said.

But it was goodwill from all parties she thought was the most help to someone transitioning back to work.

by Mark Kearney Bendigo Advertiser Saturday 17th December 2016.




New Australian Workplace Bullying Laws

Posted on February 17, 2014 in Bullying in the News by editor

Australia’s workplace bullying laws  form part of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Commonwealth). This all-encompassing law makes bullying conduct unlawful, with workers having the right to redress workplace bullying through the Fair Work Commission.

What this means for employers

  • These new laws bring into question “Reasonable Management Action”, which remains an exception to the law. However, employers may find that workers allege that performance management amounts to bullying.
  • The onus is on the employer to establish that performance management is “reasonable management action, carried out in a reasonable manner”, which might lead to significant costs.
  • If a claim is made to the Fair Work Commission (FWC), they cannot impose a payment penalty. However, they can make an order to prevent the worker from being bullied.
  • If an employer does not comply with this order, the worker can apply to the Federal Court, which will impose a penalty if it is determined that the employer has contravened the FWC order.
  • Maximum penalties for employers would be $51,000 and $10,200 for an individual. Individuals involved in the contravention, such as managers and directions, could also be penalized.

In order to avoid such a claim, all employers should:

  • Have an effective workplace bullying policy in operation
  • Ensure that all employees, including casual workers and contractors, those on work experience, trainees and apprentices, are trained in relation to this policy
  • Have a well-documented and fully communicated performance management and disciplinary process in place to assist in dealing with “reasonable management action”.

Recent media headlines

Posted on February 17, 2014 in Bullying in the News by editor


Hospitals face fines over bullying, Julia Medew, The Age, Thursday, 21 April 2016.

St Aloysious College Principal bullied teacher: Fair Work Commission, Neelima Choahan, The Age, Wednesday, 12 July 2016.

Principal bullied teacher – Fair work ruling, Robert Ballantyne, The Educator, 14 July 2016–fair-work-ruling-219627.aspx

Horrible Bosses, Wendy Squires, The Age Sunday Life, July 10, 2016



Here, there, everywhere—Bullying in the Workplace

Posted on March 10, 2011 in Bullying in the News by editor


by Helene Richards and Sheila Freeman

(This article was previously published in the Australasian Law Management Journal.)

In an ideal world, workplaces would be stimulating and exciting, colleagues friendly and supportive, and everyone would love going to work. At worst, our workplaces should be tolerable because they are safe and we receive a regular salary. We should never be terrified of going to work, every day should not be an endurance test, and we should not be left crippled emotionally, psychologically or physically by events that occur there. Yet this is what bullying does to a large proportion of the population.

Despite numerous campaigns, bullying is endemic in schools and workplaces. This prevalence may be because society appears to condone, and even encourage, aggression in many areas.

In parliament, politicians bicker and hurl insults across the floor; on the sporting field, top cricketers and footballers, idolised by millions, sledge their opponents continuously and viciously. Australia’s most popular television shows are reality programs that focus on winning at all costs: on ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Survivor’, a group of backstabbing people compete to come out on top; on ‘Australian Idol’, judges belittle and humiliate contestants; on ‘The Biggest Loser’ participants are ridiculed, bullied and made to perform degrading challenges.

These shows, with cultures of distrust, intimidation, harassment and threats of dismissal, are nothing more than games based on institutionalised bullying, with no consideration for the dignity of the individuals. If these are the programs we most like to watch, what does that say about us and what kind of example are we setting our children?

The more we view this type of behaviour the more immune we become to its offensiveness and the more ‘acceptable’ and ‘normal’ it seems.

There is no legal definition of bullying. We define it as ‘a repeated pattern of unprovoked, unwelcome, hostile behaviour that intentionally inflicts, or attempts to inflict, injury, hurt, humiliation or discomfort.’[1] In any decision on whether particular behaviour constitutes bullying, the focus should be on the frequency of the behaviour—a one-off incident is not bullying.

Bullying can be physical (pushing, poking, shoving or hitting) or psychological (subtle and insidious intimidation, verbal and non-verbal, which usually takes place without witnesses, and so is difficult to prove).

The list of psychological bullying behaviours is long, but includes sarcasm, insults, isolation, constant criticism, taunting, yelling, abusive language, offensive messages, pictures, emails or voice mail, withholding of materials or equipment, malicious gossip, sabotage, taking credit for another’s work.

Victims react in different ways: some become quiet, irritable and have mood swings; some lose concentration at work and start making serious mistakes; others become tearful, nervous, depressed; others become physically ill. They can experience any or all of the following:

  • Emotional problems, including loss of confidence, feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy, feelings of self-blame, irritability, low self-esteem, severe anxiety, stress, panic attacks, irrationality.
  • Behavioural effects, such as heavier smoking, excessive drinking, overeating, drug-taking
  • Physical problems, including dry mouth, facial tics, hand tremors, nausea, loss of appetite, eating disorders, rashes, asthma, high blood pressure, insomnia, heart disease, reduced immunity, shoulder and neck pain, bowel problems, excessive sweating, migraine.

I feel sick every day because I know I’ll run into him… Today he walked passed me and stared at me with a sly smile on his face and I froze. I was a quivering mess.[2]

My family is on the verge of separating. My children are experiencing undue stress. I cannot get a job in Australia.[3]

I began to have panic attacks. I was scared to death, and thought I was going crazy.[4]

Potential long-term impacts are financial problems, relationship problems, PDSD (prolonged duress stress disorder) and even suicide.

Victims may look normal on the surface but underneath they are in turmoil. ‘He is irrational, over-sensitive, paranoid… He misinterprets well-meant remarks by friends and family members as slights or insults—it makes him very difficult to live with.’[5] In such cases, the behaviour can degenerate into violence.

Bullying also impacts on victims’ families, friends and colleagues. Marriages/relationships often break down and the stress can spread to children and even grandchildren. A family’s financial situation can be adversely affected if the victim is forced to resign or takes the matter to court. Co-workers who witness bullying feel ashamed that they did not stand up for the victim, and often leave the workplace because they don’t want to be next or can’t work where bullying is condoned. Friendships dwindle, as people have limits to their sympathy. ‘It’s over,’ they say. ‘Move on.’ But many victims can’t.

Bullying costs workplaces directly in a number of ways, including lost productivity, lower performance, increased absenteeism, low staff morale, staff replacement, higher insurance premiums, fines, litigation, court fees and compensation claims. According to research by Griffith University, bullying costs employers up to $13 billion every year.[6]

In a landmark case in 2006, a London secretary was awarded a total of $US1.5 million for pain and suffering and loss of past and future earnings from Deutsche Bank, with the bank also ordered to pay her legal costs.[7]

The legal profession is not immune. Its adversarial nature can perpetuate bullying—legal protections for victims can be circumvented by defence lawyers, rape law disadvantages women and can victimize them further, and so on. Bullying behaviour in court is common—judge against lawyer, lawyer against lawyer, lawyer against client, lawyer against opposition client.

Eighteen-hour days and six-day weeks have been long-accepted working conditions for lawyers fresh from university, with excessive workloads and impossible deadlines the norm. ‘There are countless anecdotal ‘horror stories’… of young lawyers… being exploited and pressured to work inhumane hours for which they receive no time off in lieu, nor overtime payments.’[8]

Though legal workplaces are no longer so male-oriented and conservative, some female lawyers still complain of discrimination: being allocated the uninteresting work, men promoted ahead of them, and being marginalised should they become pregnant. Following her return from maternity leave, one young lawyer was ostracised and excluded because she could no longer ‘cut it’; at one meeting, she was told, ‘You’ve got Mummy brain so your opinion is irrelevant.’[9]

In a 2003 NSW Law Society survey of 1800 lawyers, 54.2 per cent of respondents reported being bullied or intimidated; 32.9 per cent of them were women.[10

Mahlab’s 2005 survey of the profession found ‘nearly a quarter of private-practice lawyers… had been the subject of bullying behaviour, including intimidation, shouting, persistent and unjustified criticism and, for nearly 70 per cent, humiliation through sarcasm, criticism or insults.’[11]

‘One lawyer… was so browbeaten by a bully that he could not compose a basic letter without fear of reprisal; he felt that he had lost the capacity to complete a basic task.’[12]

Firms can be reluctant to take action, despite a high staff turnover, because the bullies are often high-performing lawyers who bring in the clients. However, bullying lawyers can find themselves subject to court action. In September 2004, a Melbourne solicitor had his practising certificate cancelled and was fined $16,500 for misconduct that included bullying his articled clerk.[13]

Bullying or stress claim investigations by insurers are rigorous and usually not accepted first up. Victims may be forced into the courts if the employer refuses to accept the WorkCover claim; unfortunately employers often draw out the process and it becomes too costly for the claimants to proceed.

Although there is no single statutory avenue for a bullying claim, victims can seek redress and claim damages through criminal, Industrial Relations, Equal Opportunity, Anti-discrimination and Occupational Health & Safety legislation.

In the 2004 Inspector Maddaford v Coleman case, a sixteen-year-old factory worker was wrapped in plastic by co-workers, rolled around on a trolley and covered in sawdust and glue. The NSW Industrial Relations Commission found that his employer, a timber joinery company, had breached its duty to ensure a healthy and safe workplace under s8 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000. The director and factory foreman, though not directly involved in the incident, were also found personally liable under s26 of the Act (liability of managers and directors) and fined—the director $9,000 and the factory foreman, who was responsible for supervising employees, $12,000.[14]

Where bullying forces a person to resign, it may be possible to claim unfair dismissal. In Dillon v Arnotts Biscuits Ltd (1997) the court found that a worker’s bullying by her boss had led to “constructive dismissal”. She recommenced work and was reimbursed for lost income.[15]

In 2004 a Ballarat radio station was fined $25,000 for failing to provide a safe workplace and $25,000 for failing to provide training and supervision in relation to bullying; the perpetrator was fined $10,000 for occupational health and safety offences and ordered to pay costs.

The legal profession needs to promote a culture where there is zero tolerance of bullying. Firms should instigate personal development courses in communication skills, management skills, conflict resolution and stress management.

If lawyers demand more inclusive, collaborative workplaces that have open and honest communication, prioritise the wellbeing of their employees, promote work/life balance, value diversity in all shapes and forms, and where all employees, from top to bottom, are respected as ‘whole’ human beings, there will be no place for bullies to thrive.

Helene Richards and Sheila Freeman are workplace trainers and the authors of Bullying in the Workplace: An Occupational Hazard (HarperCollins 2002, HR Publications 2010). The book can be purchased online at

[1] Helene Richards and Sheila Freeman, Bullying in the Workplace: An Occupational Hazard, HarperCollins 2002, p.4, 2nd edition, HR Publications 2010, p.10.

[2] Marita, by email, August 2005.

[3] Jacob, by email, May 2006.

[4] Lena, by email, September 2005.

[5] Mary X, speaking about her husband Peter, who was unable to work as a result of prolonged bullying. Interview, November 2001.

[6] 2003 research by Paul McCarthy, Workplace Bullying Project Team, Griffith University, cited in The Age, June 21, 2004.


[8] Verrall, Jennifer, ‘Laying down the law on long hours,’ The Age, October 20, 2001

[9] Alice, by email, January 2007.

[10] Brigid Delaney, ‘Workplace bullies’, Sydney Morning Herald, August 1, 2005.

[11] Brigid Delaney, op cit.

[12] Toop, cited in Richards & Freeman, 2002, p. 233.

[13] Brigid Delaney, op. cit.

[14] LAC Lawyers, Bullying—Adults in the schoolyard,

[15] LAC Lawyers, Bullying—Adults in the schoolyard,