Workplace violence

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Every worker has a legal right to a healthy and safe work environment that's free from violence. There are laws to help people who experience violence in the workplace and protect their personal safety.

What is workplace violence?

Workplace violence is defined as "physical assault, threatening behaviour or verbal abuse, and racial and sexual harassment occurring in the work setting." It can happen in all kinds of workplaces, industries, occupations and professions.

Workplace violence is serious. It can have devastating short and long-term effects on the victim, their family, friends and co-workers. Victims can also feel anxious and isolated, and often blame themselves for what has happened.

Workplace violence is never the victim's fault - it is the perpetrator who's in the wrong. Some forms of workplace violence are actually crimes.

There is no such thing as a typical victim of workplace violence. But the following things can impact a person's access to support, information, counselling and legal help:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Socio-economic status
  • Racial or ethnic background
  • Disability
  • Job type

Workplace violence and the law

Violence and bullying in the workplace can take various forms. These forms may relate to various laws in Victoria.

Health and safety laws

The Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (new window) covers workplace health and safety. Under this legislation, employers have a duty to provide a safe work environment that's free from risk for employees. Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own and others' health and safety.

Allowing violence to occur in a workplace is a breach of these obligations. If you believe your health or safety is at risk because of violence or an unsafe work environment you should contact WorkSafe Victoria on (03) 9641 1444 or 1800 136 089, or email info@worksafe.vic.gov.au. They also have an Work-related violence page (new window) with some further information.

Find out more about workplace safety on our WorkSafe Victoria page.

Discrimination laws

Under certain circumstances workplace violence can also be unlawful discrimination.

Discrimination is where a person is treated less favourably than others because of a particular attribute they possess (or are assumed to possess) such as age, race, sex, disability etc.

There are both federal and state laws that prohibit various forms of discrimination. The federal anti-discrimination laws are:

  • the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Act 1986,
  • the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975
  • the Disability Discrimination Act 1992

The Victorian anti-discrimination legislation is the Equal Opportunity Act 1995.

Sexual harassment is also a form of unlawful discrimination. Behaviours including:

  • Touching
  • Staring
  • Sexually suggestive comments or jokes
  • Requests for sex
  • Displaying pornographic pictures
  • Stalking

are all forms of sexual harassment.

You can find out more about discrimination and assault and what to do about it on our Discrimination & harassment and Sexual assault pages.

Criminal laws

Some forms of workplace violence may actually be criminal acts (e.g. assault, sexual assault or attempts at sexual assault, threats to kill, stalking, etc.) In instances where actual physical injury, threats or damage to property occur, contact the police and ask to make a statement.

If you receive an injury through violence make sure it is documented and always visit a doctor if you've been hurt. Report violent incidents to:

  • Management
  • Your union 
  • Your occupational health and safety representative.

See our page What to do about workplace violence for further information.

Links

Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004
Information about the Victorian legislation and what it means for both employees and employers.

JobWatch
Victorian community legal centre specialising in employment law.

Community Law - Federation of Community Legal Centres
Provides a range of legal resources including topics on employment and discrimination. You can also find the contact details of your nearest Community Legal Centre.

Centre Against Sexual Assault
A range of information and advice about sexual assault and what to do if you have been sexually assaulted. Includes contacts details for local Victorian CASA centres.

Victoria Police - Your Local Police
Search for the contact details of your local police station.