A healthy work environment has a direct impact on workplace productivity and morale. As the employer, you must take all reasonable precautions for the health and safety of your staff. This includes taking steps to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace.
In British Columbia, there are specific laws in place to protect workers from bullying and harassment in the workplace. As an employer, it’s crucial you’re aware of your legal obligations to ensure a safe and healthy workplace environment for your employees.
In this article, we will discuss what workplace bullying and harassment are, what the law requires, and what employers can do to prevent and respond to such behaviour.
What is considered bullying and harassment in BC?
WorkSafeBC, the provincial safety enforcement agency, defines 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”.
Actions that qualify as bullying can be both physical and emotional/psychological. Verbal abuse, spreading rumours, and threats of violence are some examples of such behaviour. If left unchecked, bullying and harassment may corrode workplace productivity and morale. In the long term, it may increase employee absenteeism and turnover.
Bullying and harassment in the workplace are serious issues. It can expose you to legal claims. Under the Workers Compensation Act (Bill 14), employees are entitled to compensation for a mental disorder caused by workplace bullying or harassment.
What are employer obligations under the law?
WorkSafeBC has developed three policies on this issue under the Workers Compensation Act. These outline the steps to be taken to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace.
An employer’s obligations to prevent and address this issue include the following:
- Creating a policy statement that says workplace bullying and harassment are unacceptable
- Acting to avoid where possible, otherwise, minimize workplace bullying and harassment
- Setting down procedures for staff to report incidents of bullying and harassment. These should include details on how, when and to whom such reports are to be made. It should also clarify the procedure in case the employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser and bully.
- Developing and applying procedures for addressing complaints of bullying and harassment. These must include the following:
- Procedure and timeline for carrying out investigations
- What will be included in the investigation
- Roles and responsibilities of employers, supervisors, workers, and others
- A follow-up to the probe (description of corrective actions, dealing with adverse symptoms, etc.)
- Record-keeping requirements
- Informing staff of the policy statement and procedures developed.
- Providing training to supervisors and workers on the policies and procedures created.
- Annually reviewing the policy statement, steps taken, and procedures developed
- Not bullying and harassing workers and supervisors
- Following policies and procedures on bullying and harassment
How should an employer investigate a harassment complaint?
As per guidelines from WorkSafeBC, all employers must take all complaints of workplace bullying and harassment seriously. Investigations must be undertaken in good faith and be fair, impartial, and fact-based. When facts are easily ascertained, independent witnesses are available, and there are no additional complex underlying issues or problems, employers are encouraged to consider undertaking their own investigations.
For more serious or complicated complaints, an employer may organize a third-party investigation, which can provide their expertise in questioning witnesses, and assessing credibility and evidence. Third parties are also able to assess investigation in a more neutral and detached manner.
What does not qualify as bullying and harassment?
When deciding whether to report workplace harassment, employees should be aware of what does not constitute harassment. This includes management exercising their right to manage, workplace conflict, work-related stress, difficult conditions of employment, professional constraints, organizational changes, isolated incidents such as inappropriate remarks or having an abrupt manner, social relationships, or friendly gestures among co-workers.
How to Prevent Workplace Bullying and Harassment
The best way to address workplace bullying and harassment is to prevent it from happening in the first place. As an employer, you can take several steps to create a safe and respectful workplace:
Develop a workplace harassment policy
Develop a clear and concise policy that outlines your organization’s stance on workplace harassment. This policy should define what constitutes workplace harassment, the consequences of engaging in such behavior, and the procedures for reporting incidents of harassment.
Provide regular training to all employees, supervisors, and managers on workplace harassment. This training should cover what constitutes harassment, how to recognize it, and the steps to take if an employee experiences harassment.
Encourage employees to report any incidents of harassment, and make it clear that they will not face retaliation for doing so. Provide multiple channels for reporting, such as an anonymous hotline, an email address, or a designated individual within the organization.
How to Respond to Workplace Bullying and Harassment
Despite your best efforts to prevent workplace bullying and harassment, incidents may still occur. When they do, it is important to respond promptly and effectively to ensure that the affected employee feels supported and that the behaviour is addressed appropriately.
Conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the incident to determine what happened and who was involved. This investigation should be carried out by a trained individual who is not directly involved in the incident. You may also consider hiring a third-party investigator to conduct the investigation.
If the investigation confirms that harassment occurred, take appropriate action against the harasser, which could include disciplinary action, termination, or legal action. Additionally, take steps to support the victim, such as offering counselling services or time off work.
Communicate the results of the investigation and the actions taken to all parties involved. It is important to maintain confidentiality while also being transparent about the outcome of the investigation.
Adjust Workplace Policy
In the event there was an issue of harassment, you may want to address the workplace culture or workplace dynamic to prevent further incidents. This can include communicating to all staff the importance of a harassment free environment, introducing equality and diversity training programs, or allowing staff to voice any concerns they have in the workplace.
Do you need help drafting a policy that prevents workplace bullying and harassment?
Workplace bullying and harassment can have serious consequences for both employees and employers. As an employer in BC, it is your responsibility to ensure that your employees are working in a safe and respectful environment, free from harassment and bullying. Part of this response involves creating a workplace harassment policy.
If you need assistance creating a policy that combats workplace harassment and bullying, contact Peninsula for help. We help employers comply with provincial legislation and advise them on how to apply this to their workplace. Contact us today at 1 (833) 247-3652.