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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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Why The New Anti-Bullying Legislation Isn't Working

Posted by on in Essential Anti-Bullying Tips
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Shattered Mirror

On January 1 this year in Australia, new anti-bullying legislation was introduced whereby workers can now apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order to stop the bullying.  Once an application has been received, the FWC has 14 days in which to respond with an investigation of the complaint.  Legislators expected an overwhelming demand given that bullying affects over thirty percent (three million plus) of Australian workers and costs the economy between six and 36 billion dollars per annum.

It seemed reasonable to expect that applications should have numbered in the thousands by now when results from a parliamentary inquiry in 2012-13 showed that workers’ most desired outcome was that they just wanted the bullying to stop.

However, only 44 applications have been received this year so far, six of which were withdrawn.  This has surprised commentators who have been speculating about possible causes, especially when in contrast, 1,000 unfair dismissal complaints were made within the same time period.

Predictions have been that the low numbers may simply reflect seasonal variations or the uncertainty caused by the newness of the legislation.  However, the actual reasons for the low number of applications may be a lot more sinister.

Bullying is often experienced as a relentless campaign of terror that, on average, has lasted at least two years, in the face of which victims are left feeling helpless, frozen and too frightened to act in their own defence.

Fear of reprisals from the boss, possible unfair dismissal, loss of economic stability, leaving the workplace without good referrals and the difficulty of finding a new job are very real concerns that stop victims from lodging complaints.

Victims often become mired in beliefs that they are worthless, incompetent and useless when bullying causes them to despair on a daily basis.

In my private practice, I see many clients who have been bullied in the workplace, sometimes for as long as six years!  It can take clients two years or more to pluck up the courage to act in their own defence and either make a complaint or look for another job.

This is especially so in workplaces where bullying is rife, policies and procedures afford no real protection and management functions within a culture of denial, such as state government departments unregulated under the new legislation.

In those workplaces, the Australian Fair Work Act 2009 ostensibly covers workers but to date, WorkSafe (the agency responsible for enforcing the act) has never prosecuted a state government department for bullying, so workers probably don’t feel safe in coming forward about bullying.

Most targets of bullies are ethical, decent and competent employees who may be shy and conflict-averse, lacking in confidence to assert their right to safety, especially when feeling depressed and anxious.

Bullied workers can take the following three steps when too frightened to make a formal complaint:

  1. See a doctor for a referral (rebated by Medicare in Australia) to see an independent psychologist, competent in supporting recovery from bullying and willing to take an advocacy role
  2. Keep a journal of bullying incidents and other important evidence to support a possible case
  3. Keep informed by reading the latest books, blog articles and social media posts on 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
    Nuyou Tuesday, 13 May 2014

    Apply for Workcover if you become so anxious you cannot continue to work, but beware approx only 1 in 9 applications for mental health claims to the Insurer are accepted. Workcover is the insurer, so why would they want to pay out premiums? Advice I've been given is if your claim is unsuccessful hire a lawyer (no win no fee basis) and go directly to the Tribunal.
    Dr Sophie's advise is good - keep strong and apply for another job BUT look out for the bullying and record them.

  • Guest
    Dr Sophie Tuesday, 13 May 2014

    Great piece of additional advice, thank you Nuyou.

  • Guest
    Inbetween Sunday, 01 March 2015

    Hi, I've just discovered your website, wish I'd found it earlier. I've been reading about bullying for a while, trying to get some support. I've discovered a gap in the support and legislation, though, in that if you are a student who has to do work placements as part of your course, you are in a bit of a black hole. You're not covered by Fair Work Australia and you're also not covered by Safe Work Australia, because you're a student, not an employee. It is also possible to suffer an injury at your work placement, due to bullying, but as a student you're not covered by workers compensation.

  • Guest
    Dr Sophie Henshaw Sunday, 01 March 2015

    Yes, that is very true! It's a minefield out there working for organisations, let alone being a student! In-between, why don't you sign up to my list as I'm currently in the process of planning a series of webinars on how to cope emotionally that might be useful for you.

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