Workplace Bullying

A local sales division has enquired with the scenario below.


John has just started a new job in sales. The new boss who hired him said she ‘needed a new team’. After a few days John saw why she needed a new team…. Even though he was new to the job the boss seemed to be very direct with her comments, used ‘colourful’ language and made him feel intimidated by her approach. Other staff members who were slow to perform tasks also received some very direct instructions. John is wondering whether, as feels stressed about her actions, this is harassment, and whether he should do something.

Suggested answers:

Writer A

It is not bullying if the manager is carrying out reasonable management action in a fair way. However, if the manager is abusive, insults or uses offensive language it is likely to be harassment. If she withholds information vital to his effective work performance, or sets unreasonable timelines or constantly changes deadlines it is offensive. In this situation if the actions of the manager were abusive then there could be some grounds for considering harassment, but if she is not directly insulting or is using offensive language there are limited grounds for saying she is harassing John. (Guide for preventing and responding to workplace bullying 2014).

John has a couple of options. As he is early on in his time with this manager, he can raise his concerns with HR as his induction into the company continues. He can make his feelings known to the manager as it is early in his work time there and the manager may be able to change her way of dealing with him, or he may work in ways that make sure his work is done adequately and/or request suitable training.

Writer B

Does John think his boss is ‘acting unreasonably’ towards him? The manager can direct and control the way work is done, and as long as her actions are ‘reasonable’ it would be hard to prove harassment. John might have moved from a relatively conservative environment to a more aggressive one: ‘aged care’ to ‘used car sales’, ‘High Tea at the Hilton’ to ‘Parmy ‘n’ Pot Night at The Pig ‘n’ Whistle’. Most importantly, if John has only just started and is still on probation, it might be wise to just walk away ASAP:  a three month stint doesn’t look good on a resume, but a 2 week gap won’t even be noticed. The noisy boss does seem a bit odd, to say the least.

Writer C

First of all, John should ascertain if it’s bullying or not. He could talk to a suitable colleague about the problem and ask them to see what they think when the boss is talking to him. At the same time, he should keep a record of when and how she spoke to him and how he felt every time. Take notes whenever he felt being bullied and even possibly record actual conversations if possible because he might need evidence just in case.

When the boss says she wants a new team, John shouldn’t be shy or weak. He should speak to her positively and ask her what role he can be allocated and ask how he is expected to perform. He should try to achieve the expectations. If she is still the same and ‘bullying’ him, then he should talk to her boss or a higher boss (if there is one) and ask what to do. The company might give her appropriate training or counselling, or arrange transfer to a more suitable position. If no action is taken from any boss or the company, then he should approach Fair Work.

Disclaimer : We haven’t visited these workplaces or conducted detailed investigations, and we publish a range of opinions, so we don’t accept liability. We reserve the right to appropriately edit any submissions.