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Dr Sophie Henshaw is a work stress strategist, author and doctor of psychology with a particular interest in dysfunctional workplace relationships. For the latest articles, please refer to her latest blog site:

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Ambush Firing - Is It Legal?

Posted by on in Essential Anti-Bullying Tips
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Large corporations have a strategy to get you fired once you’ve been bullied in the workplace.  It’s transparent to anyone who cares to look, but the company would rather keep it a secret.  It’s called “ambush firing”.


The Strategy

What happens first is the target gets bullied.  It usually takes several months for him to work out he is being bullied.

Thereafter, the target continues to tolerate the bullying for a few months.  Being a resilient, conscientious and competent employee, this time frame could be upwards of six months; 23 months on average according to the research.

Once targets have finally had enough, the bravest ones make a formal complaint (the more nervous ones quit). The complaint is duly “investigated”.

The “investigation” is biased in the interests of the employer and the image they wish to present to the world.  The CEO declares that the company has “a zero tolerance to bullying” and reiterates its inspiring values as a good corporate citizen. 

HR makes a show of applying due process, enshrined by the company’s convincing and laudible policies and procedures.

However, in reality, the company just wants the target to shut up and go away.

In order to effect the “ambush firing”, the company sets up a meeting at very short notice in which the target has no choice but to attend.  The timeline is absolutely rigid so there is no room to prepare ahead of time.

The target can sometimes bring a support person to the meeting who nonetheless may not be allowed to voice an opinion about what is happening.

A gang of managers then confront the hapless target to deliver a trumped-up but “plausible reason” in a “fair and reasonable manner” for what they are about to do. 

With much sympathetic head-shaking, the target is summarily dismissed and it’s all over in under 30 minutes.

Megaphone bully

To make matters worse, if the target earns over $129,800 pa and lodges an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission, the employer may challenge the application on the basis of the high income threshold requirement in the Fair Work Act 2009.  When the case goes to arbitration it may very well be dismissed on these grounds alone.

The target is left reeling; he has been the victim of a bully, then the company has colluded with the bully and fired him for speaking out. 

The bully is given a slap on the wrist or a promotion, then it’s business as usual.

Is this strategy legal?  Unfortunately the onus is on the target to prove his case in court, at a time when he is at his lowest ebb and suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression.

In writing this article it is my hope that targets will work out what is happening to them and take precautions to protect themselves before it’s too late.


What You Can Do:

Here are five steps you can take to prepare yourself for the worst:

1.    Download a copy of the F72 application form from the Fair Work Commission website and get your story straight by completing it.  You don’t need to lodge it just yet; just have it ready.

2.    Get some support from a workplace bullying-savvy psychologist who can help you recover from trauma and make an effective plan of action

3.    Find a good workplace lawyer and have the phone number on hand, just in case.  Be sure to cull the sharks and only use lawyers whose reputation and integrity are intact (a Google search will help you unearth important information)

4.    Have a media contact ready in case you need to take your story to the press

5.    Keep informed by reading all you can about workplace bullying



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Dr Sophie has experienced bullying both personally and professionally.  As a new psychologist starting out in a government organisation that had “a zero tolerance to bullying”, she was the target of a serial bully who was never held to account.  Professionally, Dr Sophie has treated many clients suffering severe and chronic symptoms of depression and traumatic stress as a result of being bullied. She has also conducted numerous interventions in workplaces with organisational cultures vulnerable to bullying.

Dr Sophie graduated from Murdoch University in Perth, WA in 2000.  She initially worked in a variety of settings including maximum-security prisons, private hospitals and with GPs before going onto full-time private practice in 2005. 


  • Guest
    Laura Saturday, 24 September 2016

    I have been bullied in the workplace. The description above is deadon what happened to me. I feel worthless and ashamed. I go to bed reliving the workplace nightmare and wake up thinking about it. I take anti anxiety medication to induce sleep. BUT, I am recovering and choosing joy every day because in the end, we have only this life to live. God's got this. Working on letting go and regaining my self esteem. Bless you for your relevant and most helpful resources.

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