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Workplace Bullying and Harassment

What can be done when bullying or harassment rears its ugly head in the workplace? Whether you are an employer or employee, it is important to know that there are laws to prevent workplace bullying and harassment, such as behaviour involving inappropriate comments, harassing emails, verbal aggression, malicious rumours, and other acts that could cause humiliation or intimidation to an employee.

Although the British Columbia Human Rights Code does not define bullying or harassment, the statute protects workers from bullying or harassment in the workplace due to race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, age, or criminal convictions unrelated to employment. Accordingly, if a worker is a bullied or harassed in the form of discrimination in the workplace, he or she could feasibly bring a complaint before the Human Rights Tribunal for review.

If the workplace bullying is unrelated to the personal characteristics defined above, the matter may be addressed through WorkSafe BC. In the case of a unionized employee, workplace bullying and harassment may be addressed through the procedures set out in the collective agreement between his or her union and the employer.

WorkSafe BC has defined bullying and harassment as “any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a worker that the person knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated”. However, the definition excludes “any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment”.

In accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety policies under the Workers Compensation Act, WorkSafe BC requires workers, supervisors, and employers to take reasonable steps where possible to prevent or minimize workplace bullying and harassment. Workers must take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of others, meaning that they should refrain from bullying or harassing others, and they should report incidents of bullying and harassment in the workplace. Supervisors should be properly trained to recognize the potential for workplace bullying and harassment and deal with such incidents or complaints.

Meanwhile, employers are required to develop and implement a policy statement to address the issue of workplace bullying and harassment. Employers are also expected to have a proper procedure to deal with incidents of workplace bullying and harassment. Ideally, the procedure should address how and when investigations will be conducted, what information will be included in the investigation, and the responsibilities of the employers, supervisors, and workers, as well as follow-up procedures for the investigation and record keeping requirements.

Workplace bullying and harassment, if left unaddressed, can lead to serious consequences to a person’s health and well-being. In some cases, workplace bullying and harassment can lead to anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and loss of productivity. Although the problem cannot be eliminated easily, it certainly would not hurt for most of us to increase our awareness of workplace bullying and harassment, and strive to build a positive work environment for all.


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