What Is Acceptable Behaviour In The Workplace?

What Is Acceptable Behaviour In The Workplace

The idea of behaviour being acceptable or otherwise can, for some, be very subjective and often very personal. Sometimes it even depends on the environment and even ‘the times.’

Induction and hazing rituals once believed to be necessary to develop resilience and teach respect are now viewed as demeaning and in some situations constitute unlawful, criminal assault.

Violence for example, isn’t condoned on the streets yet, in the past it has often been encouraged and applauded on the sporting field. Nowadays thankfully, sports administrators are beginning to take a firm stand and ensure that negative consequences are delivered for such behaviour. This is especially critical as sports fields are often in fact workplaces..

While hazing and violence are quite clearly unacceptable in any workplace (except perhaps the boxing ring) there exists a range of behaviours for which it may seem unclear as to which side of the line they sit. Behaviours that might result in ‘psychological injury,’ such as bullying and harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination in the workplace, or even aggressive language according to legislation and workplace policies fall on the ‘unacceptable’ side of that line.

And while employers may not have total control over the behaviour of staff members, or even customers, they do have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for all. Legislation decrees this and forces employers to develop and uphold policies that support the creation of a safe workplace including the prohibition of unacceptable behaviour.

I discussed the concept of acceptable workplace behaviours with Martin Reid an industrial relations, safety and employment law specialist with Coulter Roache Lawyers. We talked about the grey areas of workplace safety, how employers can protect themselves and their staff from unacceptable behaviour , and how critical it is for employers to uphold standards of conduct.

Summary notes and a copy of the full transcript are provided below the video link. If you would like WPCR to conduct a review of your workplace behaviour policies or deliver training in relation to each individual’s responsibility to contribute to a safe and respectful workplace please contact us for more information.


  • ​Workers are entitled to attend to their tasks in a workplace where the employer has eliminated or, as far as reasonably practicable, minimised the risks to health and safety.
  • This includes harm in terms of psychological or physical events. Workers are also entitled to enjoy the ‘quiet benefits’ of their workplace.
  • When the courts refer to quiet benefits of work they are drawing a distinction between what was the traditional threat to psychological and physical harm such as a scaffold falling on your head, and the resulting psychological injury from that, to the less obvious risks to health and safety. This includes bullying and harassment at work, sexual harassment, discrimination in the workplace, those kinds of things that can happen in what would be normally a relatively physically safe environment like an office..
  • The law has developed and continues to develop around recognising that these types of behaviours (bullying and sexual harassment) can cause a risk to health and safety, not only making the job uncomfortable for the targeted employee but bystanders as well.
  • The courts expect workplace policies to refer to the legislation because it creates an expectation for employees and that the policies give examples of the kinds of behaviours from employees that could be considered to be unlawful and to at least provide an outline of sanctions should unlawful or inappropriate behaviours occur.
  • References to legislation give some legitimacy to a policy.
  • An employer sets the standard and says this is what is acceptable and is not acceptable in the workplace.
  • Creating a code of conduct is essential for numerous reasons. It can help to prevent a vicarious liability case.
  • In a vicarious liability case an employer would be liable for the actions of its employees unless it has taken all reasonable steps to prevent such things from happening. 'All reasonable steps' will be different depending on the size of the employer, but when you have a well written, easily understood and promulgated policy saying this type of conduct is not accepted and will be opposed by the employer, and steps will be taken if it occurs, that can avoid that risk or minimise the risk of vicarious liability for employers.

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About the Author

Catherine Gillespie brings a wealth of skill to her clients. With particular expertise in teaching communication and workplace conflict resolution skills, Catherine has made a marked difference to the organisations she has worked with. She empowers teams and managers to adopt constructive styles that support harmony, productivity and progress in the workplace.