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Workplace Bullying Facts & Contacts

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Prevalence of Workplace Bullying
The Costs of Workplace Bullying
Other sources/contacts


The Prevalence of Workplace Bullying

Safe Work Australia defines workplace bullying as:

“Workplace Bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.”

It is clear in the literature that for employers the emphasis in this definition is the risk to health and safety.  In Victoria the amendments to the Crimes Act 1958, nicknamed “Brodie’s Law,” see “threats and abusive words or acts” added to the scope of stalking, while the definition of harm is expanded to include self-harm, psychological harm and suicidal thoughts refer (

According to research, the prevalence (or incidence) of workplace bullying ranges from 3.5% to 70% of employees given differences of workplaces, contexts and management styles.   Davidson Trahaire Corpsych (DTC) corporate psychologists reported to the Federal Government Inquiry into Workplace Bullying that their estimate, based on 10,000 cases, was closer to 1:3 (33%).

It is important to note that the wide range may reflect different survey methodology, target groups, questions and under reporting of bullying in workplaces.  Therefore, caution should be exercised when evaluating statistics as actual figures.  It is advisable to be aware of the ranges and note that if unaddressed it is a growing phenomenon that impacts both employers and employees.

Some research statistics quoted in government and private reports are provided below:

  • According to the Federal Government Inquiry into Bullying (2012) it was estimated that between 350,000 to 1.5 million people were bullied;
  • Research conducted by Mellington found that as many as 70 per cent of employees were currently being bullied or had been bullied in the past and over 13 per cent had witnessed workplace bullying. Of the number that had been bullied, 38 per cent indicated that the bullying activity had occurred for over six months.
  • Research findings released from the Labour Council of New South Wales launch indicate a high incidence/prevalence of bullying.  A survey of 840 workers found that:
  • 74 per cent of respondents had been targeted by workplace bullying, and;
  • 56 per cent of respondents indicated a bullying culture at their workplace, and 89 per cent wanted workplace policy and procedures to deal with the issue.
  • Bullying is considered by the Labour Council to be the number one occupational health and safety issue in New South Wales.
  • In 2010, the Australian Productivity Commission mentioned the prevalence rates of workplace bullying varied between 3.5% and 21% of the Australian Workforce.
  • The Victorian State Service Authority (2011) and NSW Public Service Commission conducted employee surveys calculating prevalence rates of between 20-29%.

The Victorian Public Sector Commission indicating that approximately one in five employees (21%) reported that they have personally experienced bullying in the workplace (see Figure 1).  Interestingly over one third have witnessed bullying.  The incidence rate trends similarly to rates of bullying experienced in the broader Victorian workforce (14%-15%), the Australian Public Service (17%), and the public services of Western Australia (18.6 %) and South Australia (23%)2.

Figure 1: Perceptions of bullying in the Victorian public sector


Data source: Victorian Public Sector Commission, People Matter Survey, 2005-2010


It is interesting to note that one in five (21%) experienced bullying and a median of 34.5% indicated they witnessed bullying.  If this was over 12 months and the two data sets are mutually exclusive, then it may well indicate a bullying rate of approximately 50%. That has implications for business productivity and costs.

Evaluating the range of statistics presented it appears feasible to estimate an incidence range of 3.5% to 21%, which could possibly reflect the size of the organisation, private/public sector orientation, service orientation (human resource based), industrial sector, hierarchical structure and traditional top-down management approaches.  However, this is speculative until valid data can be collected overtime, the actual incidence is unknown.  WE training aims to accumulate time series data on workplace bullying with the aim of gaining a cumulative sample size to investigate the underlying dynamics of workplace bullying.  A large data set across a range of industries will be able to provide confidence, reliability and validity of data.  This work will be accompanied by qualitative research which provides insights from both staff and management into cultures of bullying, incidences and dynamics.  This information will be of value to management and the business community assisting them with workable strategies to eradicate workplace bullying in their organisations.

The Costs of Workplace Bullying

The prevalence rates have implications for the business community in relation to the cost to the business community, industry costs, corporate costs and personal costs for individuals if workplace bullying is not addressed.  The opportunity cost for business is the cost of not taking action.  As highlighted below, doing nothing is a high cost.

Below are estimates of the opportunity cost of not preventing bullying in the workplace.

The Australian Federal Government Inquiry into Workplace Bullying (2012) provides statistics based on conservative estimates of bullying at work in Australia:

  • The financial cost of workplace bullying to business in Australia is estimated to be between $6 billion and $36 billion a year. This includes indirect costs, such as: absenteeism, labour turnover, loss of productivity and legal costs.
  • It can cost a company approximately on average $20,000 per employee as a result of serious bullying.  Other statistics identified in the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment Inquiry on ‘Bullying we just want it to stop’ indicated the costs were on average between $17,000 and $24,000 (inclusive of direct, indirect costs).  Thus a midpoint of $20,500.


From a legal perspective the issue of workplace bullying is definitely something that organisations cannot ignore. Employer fines in Victoria can be levied to a maximum of $1,427,130 (maximum 9,000 penalty units 2018) the imperative is on all organisations to review, implement and continually improve approaches to prevent and decrease the likelihood of bullying.  In the case of employees failing to prevent or report workplace bullying, they can be fined to a maximum of $285,426 (maximum 1,800 penalty units, 2018).

The current value (for the financial year 2017-18) of a penalty unit is $158.57. Changes to the rate occur with effect from 1 July each year.

The government has attempted to address this form of violence through Occupational Health and Safety Legislation (OH&S) at the Federal level (2012) and State level (2004). It is a requirement under OH&S legislation that employers have a duty of care and legal responsibility to ensure their workplace is safe from bullying. There is considerable information available from WorkSafe Victoria providing employer guidelines on how to deal effectively with bullying, harassment and workplace violence.

Visit WorkSafe Victoria for information
Workplace Bullying Prevention page

The Safe Work Australia Model Work Health & Safety Act (Commonwealth) is set to harmonise regulations across Australia.  It presents a range of offences including one that is targeted at conduct of the most serious kind involving recklessness and provides for five years imprisonment. Maximum fines for this offence are $3 million for a body corporate and $600,000 for PCBU (A person conducting a business or undertaking) as an individual or officer and $300,000 for a worker.

Victoria is the first State in Australia where bullying is regarded as a criminal issue and police involvement is necessitated, as follows:

  • “The Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2011 has now been passed by both houses of parliament in Victoria and is pending Royal Assent. This Bill amends the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) to make the offence of stalking apply to situations of serious bullying. The legislative change is in response to the infamous Café Vamp case which resulted in an employee, Brodie Panlock, committing suicide after being subjected to serious bullying in the workplace. In February 2010, owner Marc Luis Da Cruz, manager Nicholas Smallwood, employees Rhys MacAlpine and Gabriel Toomey and Da Cruz’s company were convicted of offences under the Occupational Health & Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (OHS Act) and fined a total of $335,000.
  • The OHS Act imposes duties on employers and employees with respect to treatment of anyone in the workplace. Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark acknowledged that despite the OHS Act having an important role in addressing significant workplace issues, the Café Vamp case demonstrated the need for the worst cases of bullying to be regarded as criminal offences carrying significant punishments. These cases will generally be investigated by WorkSafe Victoria, and in more serious instances, be referred to Victoria Police.  The purpose of this legislative change is to address the issue of serious bullying and deter people from engaging in such conduct. Employers must take responsibility to ensure that employees can work in a safe environment that is free from risk, including incidents of bullying. Employers are encouraged to update their bullying policies and educate employees in relation to this legislative change.”

Other Costs

  •  The costs of workers compensation claims for stress-related mental disorders is estimated at $200 million per year


  • Absenteeism in the workplace costs the Australian economy $28 billion in lost wages and productivity each year, with over four-fifths of employers believing that a significant portion of sick leave is not genuine behaviour.


  • Presenteeism and absenteeism cost employers $10.1 billion.   Healthy employees are three times more productive than unhealthy employees. Unhealthy employees take 9 times more sick leave than healthy employees.


Contacts for further information

Regulators across Australia

Victoria WorkSafe 1800 136 089
Queensland Workplace Health and Safety Qld 1300 369 915 
South Australia SafeWork SA 1300 365 255
Western Australia WorkSafe WA 1300 307 877
Australian Capital Territory WorkSafe ACT 02 6207 3000
Tasmania WorkSafe TAS
 1300 366 322 (Tasmania)
03 6233 7657 (External)
Northern Territory NT WorkSafe 1800 019 115
Commonwealth Comcare 1300 366 979

Fair Work Ombudsman

The role of the Fair Work Ombudsman is to work with employees, employers, contractors and the community to promote harmonious, productive and cooperative workplaces. They investigate workplace complaints and enforce compliance with Australia’s workplace laws.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

Provide a range of training programs and resources for employers and employees on anti-discrimination law and good employment practices. Many of these include a focus on workplace bullying.

1300 292 159




Can provide information about what to expect from WorkSafe.


Members of unions or industry associations can contact those organisations for advice and assistance in relation to workplace bullying.



Matters involving allegations of assault, damage to property, sexual assault and stalking should be referred to the police.

Emergency assistance
Please call Triple Zero (000) when an immediate response is required, to contact police while a crime is happening or if someone is in immediate danger.  Information About Emergency Assistance

Non-emergency crime incidents: Contact your local police station via phone or in person to report non-emergency crime incidents.  Details can be found in the Your Local Police section of this site. Please be aware you cannot report crime via the Victoria Police website.

Reporting crime:  If you have any information regarding a crime, criminal activity, or hoon behaviour you can contact Crime Stoppers Victoria online or by calling on 1800 333 000 and confidentially report what you know.

Victoria Police Centre Switchboard

Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm
Phone: (03) 9247 6666