Reasonable Management Action vs. Bullying

What constitutes reasonable management action vs. bullying is a question of ongoing concern for many companies, especially since there is an increased awareness of bullying and legal remedies being sought.

I had this same question come up when I spoke at the FL SHRM conference so it’s something that needs to be clarified. Bullying is harassment and harassment is normally defined as a pattern of behavior that is intended to harass the recipient and serves no legitimate purpose. (FYI - your state law’s definition of harassment may vary – this is a synopsis of Florida State law.)

For it to be bullying or harassment – it has to be a pattern of behavior. In other words, it has to happen more than once.  It has to harass the recipient of the behavior. AND the behavior has to serve no legitimate purpose.

When we apply this to the workplace, the applicable term is reasonable management action. Was the behavior part of normal management responsibilities or was it unnecessary.

Australia passed a Fair Work Act in 2009. It has an anti-bullying component. The first cases are now being tried and in one of the first, the concept of reasonable management action was clarified. (see:

In the case linked to above, receiving complaints and investigating them is reasonable management action even if the effect of receiving complaints and investigating them harassed the person being investigated. The management’s action in this case served a legitimate purpose.

What you are looking for when investigating and responding to reports of abuse/harassment/bullying is whether the behavior served a legitimate purpose or not. How someone responds to another’s behavior may vary. They may feel harassed even when that was not the intention. To avoid the subjective quagmire of hurt feelings you can simply ask – was this behavior necessary? Or did it serve no legitimate purpose?

If it served no legitimate purpose – it needs to stop. To learn more about this – consider taking one of my workplace bullying programs at Humanist Learning Systems: 

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