It is generally accepted that violence in the workplace is “as deviant and unacceptable behaviour … as it is in the community at large.” The heightened vigilance in respect of violence in the workplace is also apparent in provisions of the British Columbia Workrs Compensation Act (“Act”) and part 4 of the Occupational Health and Safety Policies (the “Policy”).
Definition of Violence in the Workplace
Section 4.25 of the Policy prohibits “improper activity or behaviour” in the workplace that may create an occupational health and safety hazard. It states: “a person must not engage in any improper activity or behaviour at a workplace that might create or constitute a hazard to themselves or to any other person.”
Section 4.24 defines “improper activity or behaviour”, which encompasses workplace violence. It states that “improper activity or behaviour“ includes (a) the attempted or actual exercise by a worker towards another worker of any physical force so as to cause injury, and includes any threatening statement or behaviour which gives the worker reasonable cause to believe he or she is at risk of injury, and (b) horseplay, practical jokes, unnecessary running or jumping or similar conduct [emphasis added].
Section 4.27 of the Policy defines violence. The definition mirrors that of “improper activity or behaviour”. Accordingly, violence in the Workplace is not limited to physical assault, rather it encompasses a broader array of conduct such as threats, intimidation, and certain types of verbal abuse or harassing behaviour.
The latter part of the definition (behaviour which gives a worker reasonable cause to believe that he or she is at risk of injury) covers a situation where a worker who is impacted by a threat “has reasonable cause to believe that the worker is at risk of injury.” Accordingly, it does not apply to a situation where a person other than the worker has such a belief. Moreover, verbal abuse or harassing behaviour constitutes violence if such behaviour includes “threats or behaviour that give the worker reasonable cause to believe that the worker is at risk of injury.”
As noted before, section 4.25 of the Policy provides that a person must not engage in any improper activity or behaviour at a workplace that might create or constitute a hazard to themselves or to any other person. Employees who engage in workplace improper activity, including violence, may risk penalties. This can include termination from employment if it is deemed fair and equitable in the circumstances.
Have you experienced workplace violence?
The law in British Columbia requires employers to provide a safe workplace. If you are experiencing violence at work, there may be several different options available to you. 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 violence.
Pursuant to the Act, employers in British Columbia are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of all their workers. Violence in the workplace is a health and safety hazard. Employers’ responsibilities include taking the necessary measures to eliminate or otherwise minimize workplace violence, informing workers who may be exposed to risk of violence, and advising workers who have experienced adverse impact as a result of workplace violence to seek medical help.
- Risk assessment
Section 4.28 of the Policy provides that employers must perform risk assessment where risk of injury to workers from violence arising out of their employment may be present [emphasis added].
Section 4.29 of the Policy provides that where the risk assessment alerts an employer that risk of injury to workers exists, the employer must (a) establish procedures, policies and work environment arrangements to eliminate the risk to workers from violence, and (b) if elimination of the risk to workers is not possible, establish procedures, policies and work environment arrangements to minimize the risk to workers.
- Duty to inform workers
Section 4.30 of the Policy provides that employers have a duty to inform those workers who may be exposed to the risk of violence. This includes a duty to provide information related to the risk of violence from persons who have a history of violent behaviour and whom workers are likely to encounter in the course of their work.
The employer must instruct workers who may be exposed to the risk of violence in:
- the means for recognition of the potential for violence;
- the procedures, policies and work environment arrangements which have been developed to minimize or effectively control the risk to workers from violence;
- the appropriate response to incidents of violence, including how to obtain assistance; and
- procedures for reporting, investigating and documenting incidents of violence.
- Advise worker to consult a physician
Section 4.31 of the Regulation provides that employers must advise a worker, who is reporting an injury or adverse symptom as a result of an incident of violence, to consult a physician of the worker’s choice for treatment or referral.
Occupational health and safety requirements are important for employers to heed. Being proactive can avoid workplace accidents, claims, and fines or penalties for non-compliance. Our team’s experience and knowledge of labour and employment law can help you ensure that you are meeting your obligations under the Act and the Policy.
 Island Timberlands LP v. U.S.W., Local 1-80, 2008 CarswellBC 3603 at para 80; West Fraser Logistics and TC, Local 31 (Robinson), Re at para 64.