Workplace bullying and harassment happen more often than one can imagine, and their effects are vast. In a 2018 study conducted by Statistics Canada, 19% of women and 13% of men reported having experienced harassment in their workplace. The statistics of bullying in the workplace are also concerning. A 2012 Canada-wide survey found that 45% of workers experienced being bullied at work at some time in their careers. Studies have found that workplace bullying and harassment could negatively impact the psychological and physical well-being of workers.
Employers, employees, and supervisors are all required to take steps to prevent and minimize workplace bullying and harassment. This blog post provides helpful information to employers regarding their duty to keep the workplace free from bullying and harassment. It also informs the employees of their legal right to work in a safe workplace and their obligation to take steps to prevent and minimize bullying and harassment at work.
Employer’s obligations to keep the workplace safe from bullying and harassment
Understanding what is considered bullying and harassment in British Columbia would assist the employers in properly drafting their policies and procedures. According to WorkSafeBC, an employee is bullied and harassed when someone takes an action that they knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that employee to be humiliated or intimidated.
Examples of bullying and harassment include:
- inappropriate sexual touching, advances, or suggestions
- insulting or derogatory remarks, or gestures
- swearing and calling someone derogatory names
- harmful hazing or initiation practices
- vandalizing personal belongings
- spreading malicious rumours, gossip or negative innuendo
- public ridicule
It is worth noting that any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment is not considered workplace bullying and harassment. Moreover, ordinary disagreements and personality clashes within the workplace do not constitute bullying or harassment. However, negative workplace encounters that rise to creating a hostile work environment would fit this definition.
Employers should remember that all employees have the right to work in a safe and healthy workplace. As an employer, you have a duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of your workers. Because bullying and harassment in the workplace pose a potential risk to your employees’ safety, you must take all reasonable steps to prevent or otherwise minimize workplace bullying and harassment.
Reasonable steps that you can take to meet your legal obligations to prevent workplace bullying and harassment include:
- establishing and implementing a bullying and harassment policy;
- implementing a workplace bullying and harassment reporting and investigation procedure;
- informing the employees of the policy statement;
- training supervisors and workers on how to recognizing the potential for bullying and harassment, responding to such behavior, and reporting such behavior; and
- reviewing and updating their workplace bullying and harassment policies
Employers who do not meet their legal obligations to prevent workplace bullying and harassment can face costly legal consequences. Our team’s experience and knowledge of labour and employment law can help you ensure that you have taken the proper preventative measures to keep your workplace safe. Lawyers at Overholt Law LLP work with organizations in matters on internal workplace investigations in a variety of contexts, including investigations required under workers’ compensation legislation and where a breach of human rights law is alleged. We offer discreet and confidential representation and aim to resolve the issues our clients face promptly.
Employee’s rights and obligations
Employees also have an obligation to take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of themselves or others in the workplace. These include:
- not engaging in bullying and harassment of other workers, supervisors, the employer or persons acting on behalf of the employer;
- reporting if bullying and harassment is observed or experienced in the workplace; and
- applying and complying with the employer’s policies and procedures on bullying and harassment.
Have you experienced workplace bullying or harassment?
As discussed, the law in British Columbia requires employers to provide a safe workplace, free of bullying and harassment. Moreover, the BC Human Rights Code provides employees with an avenue for compensation if their rights are violated. Employers who fail to take the necessary steps in providing their employees with a safe workplace, fail to investigate reports of workplace bullying and harassment, or engage in such behavior themselves can be held liable and be ordered to compensate the employee.
If you are being bullied or harassed at work, there may be several different options available to you. These may include remedies pursuant to the BC Human Rights Code, a claim for constructive dismissal at common law, or other remedies.
Before taking any action against your employer, we recommend that you speak with a lawyer to understand your rights and examine whether they have been violated. Contact us to explore your options if you have been a victim of workplace bullying and harassment.