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Workplace Harassment and Bullying Policy and Procedure

Policy Statement

The Uniting Church SA is committed to providing its personnel with a safe work environment that is free from inappropriate behaviour and will take all reasonable steps to minimise any form of workplace harassment or bullying.  This commitment is based on our Church’s belief in the importance of individuals in God’s eyes and their right to be respected, and kept safe from any harm.

This Policy and its attached Procedure is aimed at ensuring that personnel are not subjected to any unwanted workplace bullying or harassment.  Bullying and harassment in the workplace decreases productivity, increases absenteeism and is also against the law.  For these reasons workplace harassment or bullying by or towards any personnel contractor, supplier, customer, client or visitor in any work-related situation will not be tolerated by the Uniting Church SA under any circumstances.

This Policy and its attached Procedure applies to all personnel and contractors of Uniting Church SA.


Bullying and harassment is not acceptable.  It is unlawful, pursuant to State legislation (Equal Opportunity Act 1984 and Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986) and Federal legislation (Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Racial Discrimination Act, 1975, Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986).

It is the responsibility of supervisors and management to provide a working environment free from bullying and harassment and to ensure that all complaints are treated confidentially, seriously and sympathetically and that appropriate action is taken whenever bullying and/or harassment occurs.  Appropriate disciplinary action will be taken against anyone found to have harassed another employee.

No employee will be penalised or disadvantaged as a result of raising genuine concerns or complaints relating to bullying or harassment.

What is Unacceptable Conduct?

Behaviour of the following kinds is defined as “Unacceptable Conduct” by Uniting Church SA:

  • Harassment
  • Bullying
  • Vilification
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Retaliation or victimisation against someone involved in a complaint

Each of these types of Unacceptable Conduct is defined below.

What is Harassment?

Harassment is any verbal, written or physical behaviour or conduct that is of an offensive, threatening, intimidating, abusive or belittling nature and that is unwelcome, unreciprocated, uninvited and usually, but not always, repeated.

It can also be based on race, disability, age, pregnancy, marital status, homosexuality, transgender, or HIV/AIDS status.

Workplace harassment usually consists of a pattern of unwelcome behaviour.  However, it can consist of just one act where this is of a serious nature.  Also, there is no requirement that the harasser intended to offend or harm in order for it to be unlawful.  All that is required, under the law, is that a reasonable person would consider that the person being harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated by the behaviour in question.

Harassment in the workplace can create an unpleasant or even hostile environment.  Harassment makes work difficult for everyone – the person being harassed, as well as personnel witnessing the harassment.  The harasser is not concentrating on their work when he/she engages in this type of behaviour.

What isn’t Workplace Harassment and Bullying?

It is important for personnel to be aware that workplace harassment and bullying does not include the legitimate exercise of authority by an employer or manager/supervisor to direct and control how personnel perform their duties whilst at work, to monitor work flow or to provide feedback to personnel about their performance.
This also includes:

  • Reasonable action taken in a reasonable manner by an employer to transfer, demote, discipline, counsel, retrench or dismiss personnel;
  • A decision by an employer, based on reasonable grounds and consistent with the Uniting Church Recruitment and Selection Policy, not to award or provide a promotion, transfer, or benefit in connection with personnel employment;
  • Reasonable administrative action taken in a reasonable manner by an employer in connection with personnel employment;
  • Reasonable action taken in a reasonable manner under an Act affecting personnel.

The Uniting Church SA recognises that workplace harassment and bullying may involve comments and behaviours that offend some people and not others.  The management of the Uniting Church SA acknowledges that individuals may react differently to comments and behaviour and therefore expects its personnel to maintain a standard of behaviour that is respectful of everyone at all times.

For the purposes of this policy, the following applies:

What is bullying?

‘Bullying’ as defined by the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986, is behaviour that is directed towards a person or a group of persons, that is repeated and systematic, and that a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would expect to victimise, humiliate, undermine or threaten personnel to whom the behaviour is directed, creating a risk to health or safety. 

Bullying has many similarities to harassment, but the reasons for bullying behaviour do not have to be based upon an unlawful or discriminatory ground.

What is vilification?

‘Vilification’ is publicly encouraging or inciting hatred, ill-feeling or severe contempt for someone or a group of people on the basis of race and certain other personal characteristics.

What is Sexual Harassment?

‘Sexual harassment’ is defined in the Uniting Church in Australia Constitution and Regulations, Section 7.7.4 (a) as “any unwelcome sexual advance, or unwelcome request for sexual favours to a person, or engagement in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to that person, in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated the person complaining would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.”  (Refer to the Sexual Harassment Policy)

The Uniting Church SA advises that incidents of sexual harassment may, in fact, constitute a criminal offence, and therefore the Uniting Church SA may report any such instances to the appropriate authorities.

What is aggression?

‘Aggression’ includes: verbal abuse; physical violence against an individual in the form of hitting, slapping, spitting, scratching, pinching, kicking; threats of violence; and physical violence against objects, such as kicking or throwing property.

What is occupational violence?

‘Occupational violence’ can be defined as any incident where personnel is physically attacked or threatened in the workplace. 

The Uniting Church SA advises that incidents of occupational violence may, in fact, constitute criminal assault, and therefore the Uniting Church SA may report any such instances to the appropriate authorities.

Within the above definitions, it is generally accepted that:

  • “repeated” refers to the persistent nature of the behaviour, not the specific form of the behaviour.  For example, the harassment or bullying may involve a variety of unreasonable and inappropriate behaviours such as verbal abuse, persistent and unwarranted criticism and open or implied threats of being demoted or terminated;
  •  “systematic” means having, showing or involving a method or plan; and
  • “risk to health or safety” includes the risk to the physical or emotional health of personnel concerned.

Examples of harassing or bullying behaviour

Harassing or bullying behaviour may include (but is not limited to):

  • offensive comments on physical appearance, dress or private life;
  • unwanted physical contact such as patting, hugging, touching or unnecessary familiarity;
  • sexual jokes, suggestive behaviour, sexual innuendo, spoken comments or offensive telephone calls, emails;
  • demands for sexual favours or unwanted comments about a person’s sex life;
  • leering, wolf whistles, catcalls and obscene gestures;
  • display of offensive posters, pictures, graffiti, or pornographic material;
  • racially based jokes or comments;
  • mimicking someone with a disability;
  • isolating someone;
  • unfair or excessive criticism;
  • initiation ‘rituals’; and/or
  • using aggressive language.

It is up to each of us, if possible, to tell others in our workplace if their conduct is causing offence.  Equally, if an issue is raised with us it is up to each of us to moderate our behaviour accordingly.

If a complaint of harassment/bullying is ignored or the behaviour condoned, it can lead to serious disciplinary action consistent with the process outlined below, both in relation to the employee initiating the behaviour and anyone who fails to act to stop the behaviour.

Any personnel found guilty of perpetrating or permitting workplace harassment or bullying will be appropriately disciplined, and may, in serious or repeated cases, be dismissed.  Any person found guilty of making malicious, vexatious or frivolous allegations of workplace harassment or bullying that are held to be unfounded, will also be appropriately disciplined and, dependent upon all the circumstances, may also be dismissed.

The Uniting Church SA recognises the rights of the person accused of workplace harassment or bullying to be treated with natural justice.  This includes the right to know full details of allegations against them, a right of reply to those allegations, a presumption of innocence until evidence against them shows otherwise and the benefit of any reasonable doubt.

As part of the Uniting Church SA commitment to minimising and eliminating instances of workplace harassment and bullying at work, the Uniting Church SA will:

  • provide and make accessible, resources for all personnel relating to workplace harassment or bullying, including the attached Workplace Harassment and Bullying Procedure;
  • distribute and regularly promote this Policy statement to all existing and new personnel;
  • model appropriate behaviour and monitor the working environment to ensure that the appropriate standards of behaviour and conduct are observed at all times;
  • treat all complaints of workplace harassment and bullying seriously and take immediate action to investigate and resolve any complaint quickly and fairly and with complete confidentiality, consistent with the attached Workplace Harassment and Bullying Procedure;
  • ensure that personnel who make or support a complaint of workplace harassment or bullying are not subsequently subjected to victimisation; and
  • take all reasonable steps to ensure there is no recurrence of the offence.

All personnel have a responsibility to take reasonable care to protect their own health, safety and welfare whilst at work and to avoid adversely affecting the health, safety and welfare of any other person at work as outlined in the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986.  Further, all personnel have a responsibility to comply with this Policy by ensuring that they do not commit or encourage workplace harassment or bullying in the workplace.

Personnel should be aware that they could be held personally liable for harassing or bullying another person or aiding, abetting, encouraging or condoning other persons to harass or bully.
To ensure that this Workplace Harassment and Bullying Policy is complied with, the Uniting Church SA has appointed the General Manager, Resources as the Responsible Officer, who will be responsible for the education and training of all staff on workplace harassment and bullying issues, and assist with the implementation of this Policy.

If any personnel feel that they have been harassed or bullied, they may make a complaint in accordance with the attached Workplace Harassment and Bullying Procedure or other appropriate Uniting Church SA Procedures.  If personnel are not satisfied with the way their complaint has been handled by the Uniting Church SA, they have the right to refer the matter to an external party.

Workplace Harassment and Bullying Procedure

What do you do if you believe you are being harassed or bullied?

Allegations and incidents of workplace harassment and bullying can often be most effectively resolved if they are dealt with at an early stage, rather than left until the matter has become serious and attitudes entrenched.  Therefore, the Uniting Church SA encourages all personnel to report all allegations of workplace harassment or bullying as soon as they occur. 

If personnel experience any behaviour that they find offensive or unacceptable, they must, if at all possible, tell the person concerned that their behaviour is objected to strongly and they do not want it repeated.

It is important that personnel focus on the specific behaviour concerned and explain why it is considered to be offensive.

More often than not, this is all that is required to put an end to the matter.  Often a person is not aware that their behaviour is upsetting or intimidating and they will stop immediately once they are told.

However; if personnel feel that they are unable to resolve the matter by raising it directly or, if the behaviour does not stop, the matter should immediately be referred to the following support mechanisms:

Contact Officers

A Contact Officer will provide advice and support for any person who believes they have been harassed and/or bullied, even if they do not wish to take formal action.  The Contact Officer will not be involved in any way with the formal investigation or resolution of a complaint.

If, due to the circumstances, it is inappropriate to refer the complaint to a Contact Officer, the complaint should be referred directly to the Responsible Officer.  The Uniting Church SA Responsible Officer is the General Manager, Resources.

Personnel who believe that they are or have been harassed or bullied within the workplace should report the incident(s) to one of the following nominated Contact Officers:

• Executive Officer - Pastoral Relations
• Minister (for congregational issues)
• Human Resources Manager

Any personnel who require advice, information or support in relation to workplace harassment or bullying should contact their manager/supervisor or the nominated Contact Officer to assist them in such matters.

Grievance Officer

The Grievance Officer is responsible for conducting any necessary investigations into allegations of workplace harassment and bullying.  This person is independent from the Contact Officer and will only become involved when a formal complaint is made.

The Uniting Church SA current Grievance Officer is the General Manager, Resources.

In addition to the Contact and/or Grievance Officer, personnel may approach SafeWork SA or the Equal Opportunity Commission for independent advice at any time.

What will happen if you make a complaint or report?

Any complaints or reports of harassment will be treated seriously and sympathetically and acted upon quickly.  They will be investigated thoroughly, impartially and confidentially.   Managers, Supervisors and Human Resources personnel must act immediately on any reports of harassment.  Personnel will not be disadvantaged in their employment conditions or opportunities as a result of lodging a complaint.

What will happen to the person against whom personnel has made a complaint?

Appropriate action, where necessary, will be taken against anyone, including employees or independent contractors, who are found to have harassed or bullied personnel or any other person during the course of their employment.

This may include counselling, disciplinary action or termination of employment.


While it is recognised that personnel who experience an instance of bullying or harassment may want to talk about their situation, they should not discuss it with their fellow team members or other personnel.

All personnel are advised that a complaint of harassment or bullying is a serious matter and where possible needs to be substantiated.

The principles of procedural fairness require that all parties to a complaint will have the opportunity to put their positions fully if an allegation is made.  Procedural fairness also means that no decision will be made about the validity of a complaint until all parties have has a chance to respond.  Personnel will be protected from intimidation, victimisation or harassment as a result of filing a complaint or assisting in an investigation.  Any personnel who feel that they have been subjected to intimidation, victimisation or harassment as a result of filing a complaint or assisting in an investigation should advise their manager or Contact Officer immediately.

What happens if an employee breaches this Policy?

Uniting Church SA does not tolerate any form of unlawful discrimination, harassment, bullying or victimisation. Anyone who engages in unacceptable conduct in breach of this Policy will face disciplinary action which may include a verbal or written warning and in serious cases, or cases of repeated behaviour, termination of employment or engagement.

Our commitment

Uniting Church SA places great emphasis on attracting and rewarding the best personnel.  We are committed to providing an environment that is safe and free of harassment for all personnel and others with whom we associate at work.

This Policy has the full support and commitment of management.

Please help us to help you by giving your support in monitoring and avoiding practices, attitudes and traditions that lead to harassment or bullying.

Review of Policy

This Policy and Procedure will be reviewed and monitored on a regular basis to ensure it remains current and practical to Uniting Church SA and statutory requirements.

Executive Officer, Resources Board

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