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Workplace Bullying and Harassment in BC: An Employer’s Reference

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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.

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 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.

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.

Need help addressing bullying in your workplace?

Our experts can help you develop company policies and any other HR and health and safety advice you need. See how we have helped other small and medium businesses get their business compliant with provincial legislation.

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