Steps to Prevent Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

The numbers are stark. Nearly half of all Canadian workers have experienced bullying in the workplace according to a 2014 national survey. As a small business owner, you are responsible for providing a safe and secure workplace environment for your staff. If workplace bullying and harassment is allowed to go unchecked, in can lead to lost productivity, anxiety, and depression.

What Constitutes Bullying and Harassment?

WorkSafeBC defines workplace 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 the worker to be humiliated or intimidated.”

Examples of these behaviours include verbal aggression or insults, calling someone derogatory names, harmful hazing or initiation practices, vandalizing personal belongings, and spreading malicious rumours. Other, more subtle behaviours such as patterns of targeted social isolation, can also be considered bullying and harassment if they are humiliating or intimidating. For further clarification, please refer to WorkSafeBC’s Small Business Guide to Bullying and Harassment.

Effects of Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

Workplace bullying and harassment constitutes a serious health and safety issue. It has wide ranging and serious effects on the mental and physical health of workers, as well as negative impacts on the health of your small business.

Potential Effects on the Individual

  • Impaired concentration or ability to make decisions, which could lead to safety hazards
  • Distress, anxiety, sleep disturbance, substance abuse, and/or suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Physical illness
  • Reduced work Performance

Effects on the Workplace

  • Reduced efficiency and productivity, due to poor staff morale
  • Increased stress and tensions between staff
  • Increased absenteeism rates
  • Higher turnover, resulting in higher recruitment costs
  • Poor customer service, leading to client dissatisfaction

How to Handle Complaints

It’s your duty as an employer to establish procedures stating how workplace bullying and harassment will be dealt with. These procedures must ensure a reasonable response, aim to fully address the incident, and ensure potential for future bullying and harassment is prevented or minimized.

Your procedures should include the following:

  • How and when you will conduct investigations
  • What you will include in the investigation
  • The roles and responsibilities of the employer, supervisor, workers, and others (such as investigators, witnesses, or union representatives)
  • Follow-up to the investigation (description of corrective actions, time frame, dealing with adverse symptoms)
  • Record-keeping requirements

It’s not enough to just establish these procedures. As an employer you’re also responsible for implementing them and ensuring they are followed.

How to Submit a Complaint

If you’re a worker and you have experienced or observed bullying and harassment in your workplace, you must report it to your employer. If you think your employer has not taken the appropriate action to address the incident, you can call WorkSafeBC’s Prevention Information Line to discuss the incident, prior to submitting a formal complaint to WorkSafeBC.

It’s important to make the distinction between bullying and harassment and other types of incidents that can happen in the workplace. The following incidents do not constitute bullying and harassment if they are approached in the appropriate manner:

  • Expressing differences of opinions
  • Offering constructive feedback, guidance, or advice about work-related behaviour and performance
  • Making a legitimate complaint about someone’s conduct through established procedures

Bullying and harassment should not be confused with a manager or supervisor exercising authority as part of their job. Some examples of reasonable management action include decisions relating to a worker’s duties, workloads, deadlines, transfers, reorganizations, work instructions or feedback, work evaluation, performance management, or disciplinary actions.