COLUMN: Bullying in the workplace

We all know bullying is wrong.  We hear about it on the news and assume it is confined to the school yard or social media sites.

But it is taking place every day in our places of work.  Would you recognize bullying and harassment in your workplace?

And if so, would you know what to do about it?

On Nov. 1, 2013 WorkSafe BC’s Board of Directors implemented new Occupational Health and Safety policies in sections 115-117 of the Workers Compensation Act.

These create greater legal obligations for employers, supervisors and workers relating to workplace bullying and harassment, and employers and employees should be aware of what these obligations are.

Bullying and harassment includes 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.  Specific examples are: verbal aggression, yelling, humiliating initiation practices, spreading malicious rumours or calling someone derogatory names.  Bullying and harassment can also come from co-workers, clients or other external sources.

Bullying and harassment does not include any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment.  Specific examples include: expressing differences of opinion, offering constructive feedback or guidance about work-related behaviour, and taking reasonable action relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment.

There are mandatory steps both employers and employees should take to protect themselves from becoming a possible offender or victim of bullying and harassment.

Employers, your obligations are not to engage in activities that could amount to bullying or harassment. Develop a policy statement for your workplace, setting clear definitions and boundaries for bullying and harassment.  Each statement should also outline procedures for reporting and investigating complaints.

If you are an employee, your obligations are not to engage in activities that could amount to bullying or harassment.Review and comply with your employer’s policies and procedures on bullying and harassment, and report any bullying or harassment that is observed or experienced in the workplace as indicated in your company’s policy.  If you feel your concern has not been properly handled, contact WorkSafe BC’s Prevention Information Line.

The WorkSafe BC website is a great resource to help ensure you and your workplace are protected.

Shelly Avram is a partner with RDM Lawyers LLP in Abbotsford. Shelly practices in the areas of labour and employment law, and personal injury law.  Questions or comments about this article can be sent to

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