What is the difference between incivility, bullying, harassment and discrimination?

21 September 2022

Our wellbeing is significantly influenced by the culture of our workplaces and the way people speak to each other and behave. Bad behaviour exists in many healthcare workplaces and doctors may both be perpetrators and targets. Bad behaviour impacts on the wellbeing of those experiencing it and, by creating a barrier to good communication, bad behaviour creates a risk to patient safety. In addition, a doctor experiencing bad behaviour will not perform as well due to anxiety and a loss of confidence, this too impacts on patient care. Workplaces with a poor workplace culture have a higher rate of absenteeism and staff turnover which decreases productivity.


Workplace incivility is low-intensity deviant behavior (e.g. dismissive gesture or barbed words or passive aggressive behaviour) with ambiguous intent to harm the target. Incivility violates of the normal workplace standard of mutual respect. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous and display a lack of regard for others.


Workplace bullying

When someone says or does something unintentionally hurtful and they do it once That’s RUDE

When someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they do it once That’s MEAN

When someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they keep doing it even when you tell them to stop or show them that you’re upset That’s BULLYING

Workplace bullying is: repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed at an employee or group of employees that creates a risk to health and safety. Some examples include:


Some examples of the impact of workplace bullying are listed below. Note that everyone loses!


Harassment can include behaviour such as:

Note a one-off incident can constitute harassment.


The impact of harassment can range from simple irritation to extreme depression. Those who are subjected to these types of behavior can lose their self-esteem and morale. As a result, they are frequently disrupted and are unable to concentrate fully on their tasks.


Discrimination occurs when a person, or a group of people, is treated less favourably than another person or group because of their background or certain personal characteristics. Can be based on gender, race and cultural background, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy and family responsibilities, political views, age etc.

Discrimination can happen at different points in the employment relationship, including:


An uneven playing field due to discrimination can lead to lost opportunities, inequity and loss of talent. The personal impact of discrimination can include a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, feelings of isolation and exclusion and a decline in mental health and wellbeing.

Bad behaviour in the workplace is never acceptable. It creates a poor workplace culture which in healthcare puts patients at risk of harm as well as impacting on the wellbeing of healthcare workers. If you observe or experience bad behaviour in your workplace, as a doctor, seek expert advice from the AMA Victoria Workplace Relations Unit. Also seek support for your wellbeing from the AMA Victoria Peer Support Service or the Victorian Doctors Health Program and talk to your own GP.

Sources of support for members of the medical profession experiencing incivility, bullying, harassment or discrimination in Victoria include:

Kay Dunkley
AMA Victoria doctor wellbeing and mentoring


Resources for further reading

AMA Victoria Preferred Suppliers