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How do I write a workplace discrimination, bullying and harassment policy?

September 8, 2020   Brigid NelmesPhilip Evangelou

A respectful, positive and supportive workplace leads to better collaboration, creativity and productivity. Creating a positive work environment requires a willingness to lead by example and set up a complaint process to ensure that any form of discrimination, bullying or harassment is appropriately dealt with. A well-drafted and implemented workplace discrimination, bullying and harassment policy tells your employees what is acceptable and that you have their back. 

Key elements of a workplace discrimination and harassment policy 

Purpose and aim: The purpose section should detail the short-term goals of minimising and dealing with discrimination and harassment as well as long-term goals such as building a positive and safe workplace environment, improving loyalty and reducing staff turnover.

Scope: The scope of the policy explains when and to who it applies. This policy should apply to all board members, staff (including contractors and volunteers) and extend to how the company and staff treat clients and the community. The policy should apply for the entire life-cycle of staff employment (from early-stage recruitment through to resignation/dismissal), onsite and offsite work, as well as work social functions.

Legal framework: All Australian businesses are required to comply with a range of federal and state laws concerning workplace harassment and discrimination. You should outline the legislation which is relevant to your policy. Relevant federal legislation includes:

  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth)
  • Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth)
  • Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth)
  • Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)

Rights and responsibilities: Particular rights and responsibilities should apply to people at all levels of the business, including:

  • Rights: To be treated with respect, to be free from discrimination, harassment and bullying, to be hired and promoted based on merit, to be able to make a complaint without being victimised.
  • Responsibilities: To treat staff members, clients and the community in accordance with the policy, to treat everyone with respect, to support victims of discrimination, harassment and bullying throughout the complaint process, to ensure the confidentiality of parties in a complaint process. 

Additional management responsibilities: The additional management responsibilities ensure that the culture you are building is coming from the top down. Among other responsibilities, you may require that managers lead by example, are approachable to staff wishing to make a complaint, are supportive in the investigation process, provide training, take early action to deal with inappropriate behaviour and keep confidential records of complaints.

Unacceptable workplace conduct: Here are brief definitions of unacceptable conduct prohibited by legislation and which may be a criminal offence. Your policy should provide greater detail with examples to ensure everyone captured by the policy understands their rights and obligations. 

  • Direct and indirect discrimination: Direct discrimination occurs when one person is treated less favourably than another person is treated or would be treated in the circumstances due to a particular attribute (such as age, sex, race, disability). Indirect discrimination occurs when a system, policy or practice intended to treat people equally actually disadvantages, or is likely to disadvantage, a person or group due to a particular attribute. 
  • Harassment: Harassment occurs when a person’s behaviour could be reasonably anticipated to offend, humiliate or intimidate.
  • Sexual harassment: Sexual harassment occurs when a person’s unwelcome sexual behaviour could be reasonably anticipated to offend, humiliate or intimidate.
  • Bullying: Bullying occurs when a person repeatedly treats another person or group unreasonably which creates a risk to health and safety (this may depend on what a person thinks is unreasonable in the circumstances). Bullying may include practical jokes, excluding someone, intimidation or aggressive behaviour. 
  • Victimisation: Victimisation is threatening, punishing or treating a person in an adverse way because they are involved in or made a complaint. 


  • Internal complaint process: Design an internal complaint process which suits your business. It is a good idea to create different levels in the resolution process, such as an informal complaint and formal complaint process, to allow for varying levels of inappropriate behaviour to be dealt with in an efficient and effective manner.
  • External complaint process: Detail the external avenues open to a complainant if they are not satisfied with the internal complaint process, such as making a complaint to the Fair Work Commission, the Australian Human Rights Commission, and the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW. 

Confidentiality: Set out the confidentiality requirements of people involved in the complaint and investigation process. Be clear about when confidentiality cannot be maintained, such as in referrals to the police. Outline the consequences of breaching confidentiality.


A clearly-worded Workplace Discrimination, Bullying and Harassment Policy assists you in discharging your obligations to provide a safe and discrimination-free workplace and also promotes appropriate behaviour. Developing, promoting and implementing this policy will help create a positive work environment which improves the loyalty and productivity of your staff.

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About Brigid Nelmes

Brigid NelmesBrigid is a legal intern at OpenLegal, working with our legal content team. She is currently completing her Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) at the University of Technology Sydney. Her interests are in digital/privacy and startup law.

About Philip Evangelou

phillipPhil is a director at OpenLegal. He has over 16 years experience working in private practice and in-house counsel in Sydney and London, giving him expertise in employment law, IP, finance, leases, dispute resolution, insurance and contracts.