Workplace bullying can happen in any workplace including in the office, theatre, loading dock, and rehearsal room. Under certain conditions, anyone can be capable of bullying behaviour.

Please note, this information is intended as a guide only. Any industrial advice or a course of action should be checked with your manager, or referred to WorkSafe Victoria, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and IndustryFair Work AustraliaArtsLaw, or a relevant peak body.

Workplace bullying can happen in any workplace. In the arts, our ‘workplace’ can be extremely broad – remember that ‘workplace’ can refer to the theatre, backstage, front of house, the rehearsal room – even when you’re seeing a show for work.

Under certain conditions, anyone can be capable of bullying behaviour. It can have an impact on an individual’s health and affect their ability to do their job. It can also contribute to loss of productivity, reduced creativity and experimentation, turnover, absenteeism, low morale and financial costs. Bullying is a serious allegation, which could result in serious consequences and impacts for those involved.

Workplace bullying is characterised by persistent and repeated negative behaviour directed at an employee that creates a risk to health and safety.

Such behaviours include, but are not limited to:

  • Abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments
  • Unjustified criticism or complaints
  • Deliberately excluding someone from workplace activities (social or physical isolation)
  • Withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
  • Setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines
  • Setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a person’s skill level
  • Denying access to information, supervision, consultation or resources, so much so, that it has a detriment to the worker
  • Spreading negative rumours or false information about someone
  • Changing work arrangements, e.g. rosters or leave, to inconvenience a particular worker(s), excessive scrutiny at work (eg. surveillance, micro-management, monitoring)

Legitimate and reasonable management direction is not bullying. All managers and leaders have a legal obligation to provide a healthy and safe workplace and this extends to the physical and psychological wellbeing of all team members.

What are some examples of things that do not constitute workplace bullying?

  • It is reasonable for employers to allocate work and for managers and supervisors to give fair and reasonable feedback on an employee’s performance
  • Informing a worker about unreasonable behaviour in a fair and constructive way
  • Transferring a worker to another area or role for operational reasons
  • Setting realistic and achievable performance standards and deadlines

The employer is responsible for taking proactive steps to recognise, assess and control risks, including psychological hazards such as bullying behaviour.


Food for Thought:

“I pose the following question to my Arts Management students and the result is always robust debate: “The artistic genius may be hell to work with, but the end result (the art) is exceptional so behaviour deemed unacceptable in normal circumstances must be tolerated. Agree or disagree?” The conclusion that my students usually reach is that it’s not appropriate to expect people to put up with bad behaviour from colleagues just because they are ‘artists’. To deal with artistic bullies you need a written policy, be seen to be available so that people will tell you what’s going on, to deal rather than ignore complaints, provide training for managers and staff, give feedback to the bully and not to re-employ artists who are bullies.”

This extract is from The A to Z of Arts Management by Ann Tonks, published by Tilde, Melbourne.


Preventing Workplace Bullying: ACTION LIST

POLICY: Does your organisation have a policy on bullying? If not, develop one in consultation with team members, management, and your board. Ensure the policy outlines an organisational commitment to zero bullying and set clear standards for expected behaviours.

Click here to view WorkSafe Victoria’s sample policies for very small and small companies, as well as a positive workplace culture policy.

PROCEDURE: What is your procedure for responding to workplace bullying? Develop a set of procedures that outlines your steps in responding to workplace bullying, and ensure this document is easily accessed by all team members.

Click here to view WorkSafe Victoria’s Guide to Workplace Bullying Prevention and Response.

INDUCT: Induct new employees on these policies and procedures. Consider how you will let casual front of house, back of house, contractors and shift workers know about your policies and procedures, particularly those team members who may not have access to shared drives, emails, or intranets.

ENCOURAGE: Encourage reporting of issues so action may be taken to resolve the issue as early as possible. Ensure that there is more than one point of contact for reporting, as team members may not feel comfortable speaking with the CEO, but may tell the Head of Production.

TRAINING: Provide bullying prevention training to all team members, as well as a session focussing on your organisation’s policies, procedures and stance on bullying. Provide training to people managers on how to identify and manage issues.

Looking to engage an external trainer, mediator or investigator to work with your organisation on bullying prevention? Click here to download a list of questions to ask before engaging a supplier.

KEEP TALKING: Provide opportunities for ongoing discussions on these matters, for example during team meetings, post-show debriefs, and safety briefings to reinforce their importance and the organisation’s commitment.


Food for Thought

“…When management listens and takes positive action, then targets of bullying are more likely to survive the experience and the bullying can be stopped… When responses to bullying behaviour are inadequate, the quality of the work environment for everyone deteriorates and sometimes disintegrates altogether.”

This extract is from The Problem of Bullying in The Arts by Anne-Marie Quigg


Responding to Workplace Bullying

SUPPORT: Offer support to the employee(s). This could be in the form of regular catch ups with managers, access to Employee Assistance Program (if in place), or visit Entertainment Assist for a list of available support services.

REPORT: Formally document the incident(s). Depending on the size of your organisation, report the matter to Human Resources, your Operations Manager, Producer, General Manager, Artistic Director, or the CEO. Ensure documentation is clear, and that all correspondence and meetings are managed in a confidential manner.

Consider asking the following questions for your documentation:
What happened? What did you personally observe? What have you been told and by whom? Did this happen to you or someone else? Was physical force involved or threatened? Was anyone else involved? Were there any witnesses? When did this behaviour start? How often has this happened? What action did you take? What was your response? Do you know what support is available to you?

ESCALATE: Seek support from senior members of your organisation, as appropriate, or contact WorkSafe Victoria’s Advisory Service on 1800 136 089 or email info@worksafe.vic.gov.au
This service can provide information on bullying, how to prevent it, and advice on how to raise the issue of bullying in your workplace.

Other Ways to Get Help

Violence or threats of violence
Victoria Police – If there is an allegation of workplace bullying that involves assault or threats of assault; it is recommend that you contact Victoria Police and inform them of the incident.
Centre Against Sexual Assault – Offers an after-hours crisis line to help ensure that people who experience sexual assault have access to support.

Immediate emotional support
Lifeline – Provides all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. Phone 13 11 14.
Beyond Blue – Offers 24 hour access to a trained mental health professional who can listen, provide information and advice, and suggest further support. Phone 1300 22 4636.

Further information
For further information on bullying at work and obligations under the OHS law, go to the WorkSafe Victoria website or contact the Advisory Service on 1800 136 089.

Bullying at work can also fall within the scope of various state and federal laws. Obligations under such laws are additional to any obligations under OHS law.

Anti-discrimination law
State and federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit behaviour that amounts to discrimination or harassment. Some forms of bullying at work may breach these laws.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) provides 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. For further information on anti-discrimination law in Victoria go to the Human Rights Commission website or contact 1300 292 153.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has statutory responsibilities under various human rights and discrimination laws which aim to protect people from certain kinds of discrimination in public life and from breaches of their human rights by Commonwealth departments and agencies. The Commission has the authority to investigate and conciliate complaints of alleged discrimination and human rights breaches lodged under these laws. For further information go to humanrights.gov.au or contact 1300 656 419.

Industrial law
Employment conditions, grievances, disciplinary action and termination of employment are covered by industrial laws. The Fair Work Commission is an independent body with power to carry out a range of functions relating to working conditions and wages, workplace bargaining, unfair dismissal, industrial action, workplace dispute resolution, general workplace protections, right of entry and stand down. For further information visit the website or contact 1300 799 675. The Fair Work Ombudsman works with employees, employers, contractors and the community to promote harmonious, productive and cooperative workplaces. The Ombudsman investigates workplace complaints and enforces compliance with Australia’s workplace laws.

Criminal law
Matters involving allegations of physical assault, sexual assault, stalking, or damage to property are criminal matters which should be referred to the police. Other forms of bullying may also be offences under criminal law (for example, threats to harm someone or cause damage to property) and should be reported to the police.

Brodie’s Law
Brodie’s Law was introduced in 2011 following the tragic suicide of a young woman, Brodie Panlock. Brodie was subjected to relentless bullying in her workplace, and took her own life in 2006. Brodie’s Law makes serious bullying a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail. It applies to all forms of serious bullying, including physical, psychological, verbal and cyber bullying, regardless of where the bullying occurs in the community.

For further information, resources and advice go to justice.vic.gov.au or brodieslaw.org

Young workers
In addition to the above, the following organisations offer information and support specifically for young workers.

Other Contacts

Please note, this information is intended as a guide only. Any industrial advice or a course of action should be checked with your manager, or referred to WorkSafe Victoria, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and IndustryFair Work AustraliaArtsLaw, or a relevant peak body.



More Resources

View all Resources