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Combating Workplace Bullying: Legal and Practical Considerations


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Combating Workplace Bullying: Legal and Practical Considerations


29th September 2023


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In accordance with South Africa's Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998 (EEA)1, workplace bullying constitutes a form of unfair discrimination as outlined in Section 6 and is strictly prohibited. Bullying not only takes a toll on employees but also carries significant consequences for employers in terms of diminished productivity and efficiency and adverse impacts on their workforce's mental and emotional well-being and the overall working environment.

Identifying Workplace Bullying: What to Watch For 


Workplace bullying manifests in various insidious forms. Recognizable behaviours that may constitute bullying include: 

  • Inappropriate Targeted Practical Jokes: Humiliating pranks or jokes that target specific individuals. 
  • Threats: Expressions of harm, physical or otherwise, directed at employees. 
  • Humiliation: Public or private acts meant to degrade or shame employees. 
  • Unjust Criticism: Unwarranted and excessive criticism of an employee's work or character. 
  • Excessive Performance Monitoring: Unreasonable surveillance of an employee's work beyond what is necessary for the job. 
  • Continued Denial of Time Off: Consistently rejecting legitimate requests for time off without valid reasons. 
  • Unclear or Unreasonable Deadlines: Imposing unrealistic or ambiguous deadlines that hinder job performance. 
  • Harsh Emails or Messages: Sending derogatory or offensive communications to employees. 
  • Verbal Abuse: Subjecting employees to verbal harassment or insults. 

Importance of an Anti-Bullying Policy 


Implementing an anti-bullying policy is essential for creating a safe and respectful workplace. Such a policy serves multiple purposes: 

  • Education: It educates employees about what constitutes bullying, fostering awareness. 
  • Procedure: It establishes clear and consistent guidelines for addressing bullying incidents. 
  • Prevention: Setting guidelines for acceptable behaviour helps prevent the recurrence of bullying.

The effectiveness of the anti-bullying policy, along with how it is communicated to employees, plays a critical role in determining whether an employer has taken adequate steps to eliminate bullying.

Recourse for Employees When Employers Fail to Act 

Employers are responsible for maintaining a safe and healthy work environment. Failure to fulfil this obligation constitutes a breach, potentially subjecting employers to legal consequences. In such cases: 

  • Liability: Employers may be liable for damages or compensation to the victim of bullying. 
  • CCMA Referral: Unsatisfied employees can refer an unfair discrimination dispute to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA) if they believe their employer has not taken appropriate action.


For employers, proactive measures are paramount. It is crucial to educate employees on the definition of bullying and what steps to take if they encounter it. Employers should not passively wait for bullying incidents to arise but take active steps to prevent them. Furthermore, prompt attention to bullying complaints and the swift implementation of necessary measures are essential components of a healthy and respectful work environment. 

Written by Celesté Snyders, SchoemanLaw


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