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Why managers are afraid to reprimand employees

By Jack Campbell | |5 minute read

Leaders are worried about reprimanding problematic employees as they fear that they’ll be hit with bullying claims.

NB Employment Law director Jonathan Mamaril said he’s witnessed a growing number of managers concerned about engaging with bad behaviour, causing issues for organisations.

“Increasingly, problematic employees are threatening their managers with claims of workplace bullying if they receive reasonable but unwanted feedback,” Mr Mamaril said.


“Many managers are walking on eggshells and refusing to provide legitimate feedback to troublesome employees because they are afraid it could be weaponised. Managers must remember firmness does not mean harshness.”

Managers must remember that they’re there to do exactly that, manage employees. If any feedback is reasonable and respectful, leaders should have no fear of any potential backlash.

“To be clear, being frank, ensuring other people who are in ‘higher’ positions are involved, taking disciplinary action and providing reasonable, lawful directions are not unreasonable actions,” Mr Mamaril explained.

“Reasonable management action is also a defence to a workplace bullying claim, meaning managers no longer have to be held to ransom by problematic employees and their vexatious threats.”

Furthermore, managers have a responsibility to keep workers in line. If matters go unaddressed, this could create morale issues.

Mr Mamaril continued: “This means they must take action when an employee is not behaving appropriately or if their actions create a risk to health and safety.”

According to Mr Mamaril, bullying includes behaviours such as:

  • Aggressive or intimidating behaviour
  • Threatening someone with work equipment
  • Teasing or practical jokes
  • Humiliating or belittling comments
  • Sexual harassment
  • Spreading rumours
  • Using rosters to deliberately inconvenience someone
  • Hazing or initiation ceremonies
  • Excluding someone from work-related events
  • Assigning unreasonable, demeaning or pointless work demands
  • Withholding important information needed for effective performance
  • Displaying offensive material
  • Pressuring someone to behave inappropriately or even illegally

On the other hand, examples of reasonable management include:

  • Providing constructive feedback on performance
  • Providing a reasonable and lawful direction
  • Informing a worker about work that is unsatisfactory
  • Letting an employee know about behaviour that is inappropriate workplace behaviour
  • Allocating work to an employee and controlling and directing how it needs to be carried out
  • Placing an employee on a performance improvement plan
  • Modifying an employee’s duties
  • Redeploying an employee
  • Expecting employees to obtain workplace goals and maintain workplace standards
  • Requesting an independent medical examination for an employee to assess whether they’re physically fit to fulfil the requirements of the role



Harassment is defined as persistent behaviour or acts that intimidate, threaten, or uncomfortably affect other employees at work. Because of anti-discrimination laws and the Fair Work Act of 2009, harassment in Australia is prohibited on the basis of protected characteristics.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.