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Identifying harassment in the workplace

Harassment is unacceptable in the workplace. However, it can be difficult to determine what is and what is not harassment especially if the behaviour only happens once.

In the APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice, the Australian Public Service Commissioner describes workplace harassment as offensive, belittling or threatening behaviour directed at an individual or group of employees. Such behaviour is unwelcome, unsolicited, unreciprocated and usually, but not always, repeated.

Last year, the Merit Protection Commissioner (MPC) drew attention to recent case studies regarding harassment. This included a review of a case regarding a one-off comment about a colleague. You can read this case study on the MPC website.

It’s important to note that managerial decisions and actions, carried out in a reasonable way, are not workplace harassment. Employees who have been investigated and found to have breached the Code of Conduct can contact the MPC for a review of their agency’s decision.

All agencies need effective and complaint review mechanisms to help staff who are subjected to harassment. However, processes are worthless if staff don’t know about them or have no confidence their agency will take their complaint seriously. Make sure that you’re informed by reading the APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice.