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Visions Journal

WorkSafeBC and Bullying and Harassment

Kira J. Berntson, BEng, MPsych

From the "WorkSafeBC and Bullying and Harassment" issue of Visions Journal, 2020, 15 (4), pp. 8-9

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This article focuses on the occupational health and safety aspects of bullying and harassment handled by Prevention Services at WorkSafeBC. For information on claims, please contact the Claims Call Centre/Teleclaim at 1-888-967-5377, or visit the WorkSafeBC website at www.worksafebc.com

Bullying in the workplace is a serious health and safety issue. Anyone who has experienced or witnessed bullying in the workplace knows that it impacts everyone who experiences or witnesses it. It can impact psychological health, leading to increased time away from work, long-term anxiety or other psychological diagnoses and even self-harm or suicide. Often overlooked are the impacts on physical safety in the workplace, whether from the distraction caused by the bullying itself, or as a result of “practical jokes” played on the target.

In 2012, a Canada-wide survey found that 45% of workers experienced being bullied at work at some time in their career.1 Of these, only one of every three people who experienced bullying at work reported the bullying incident to their employer, and 26% of workers who were bullied eventually left their jobs because of the bullying. It is important not only that employees report bullying but that the employer investigates any reports received. When bullying in the workplace isn’t addressed, it almost always continues and escalates. This is one reason that employers must take bullying seriously and take steps to address it.

WorkSafeBC now has three policies that outline the responsibilities of employers, workers and supervisors in preventing bullying and harassment in the workplace, as mandated under part 3 of the Workers Compensation Act. These policies define bullying and harassment as conduct towards a worker that the person “knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated.”2 The definition specifically excludes reasonable actions by a supervisor or employer in direction of work. Some actions are clearly bullying, while others may or may not be considered bullying, depending on an individual’s personal history, existing interpersonal relationships and other factors. It is very important that everyone involved meets their obligations under the Workers Compensation Act and related policies.

For employers, meeting responsibilities includes:

  • Taking steps to prevent bullying where possible, and otherwise to minimize it
  • Having clear policies and procedures around bullying, including reporting and investigating
  • Implementing the policies and procedures
  • Reviewing the policies and procedures at least annually to ensure they are effective
  • Training workers and supervisors to recognize and respond appropriately to bullying and harassment

Workers have a responsibility to report bullying or harassment to their employer when they experience or witness it. All members of the organization and all employees have a responsibility to not engage in bullying or harassing behaviour and to follow the company’s policies.

WorkSafeBC Prevention Services takes a three-fold approach to making sure obligations under the Workers Compensation Act and related regulations and policies are met: education, consultation and enforcement. For bullying and harassment prevention, WorkSafeBC plays two roles:

  • We engage in education and consultation, providing tools, information and resources for workers and employers. This is done through outreach, presentations, the Prevention Information Line, and through a variety of templates, posters, videos and resources, all available at www.worksafebc.com
  • We also engage in enforcement, holding individuals and organizations accountable for their responsibilities under the Workers Compensation Act. This means ensuring that employers have policies, procedures and training for bullying and harassment prevention. It also means ensuring that employers take steps to investigate and respond appropriately when the potential for bullying in the workplace comes to their attention. Within WorkSafeBC, a dedicated team of officers responds to enquiries and complaints of bullying and harassment

WorkSafeBC Prevention Field Services holds employers responsible for taking steps to address bullying, including conducting a fair and impartial investigation into reported incidences of bullying, as well as other obligations. We verify whether steps were taken to ensure that the investigation was conducted fairly, confidentially and impartially, and that the organization developed and implemented appropriate corrective actions.

Since its bullying and harassment policies were introduced in 2013, WorkSafeBC has received, on average, 800 specific complaints each year. This number has gradually increased, and over one thousand complaints were received in 2019. Each year, WorkSafeBC’s Prevention Information Line receives over 3000 phone calls related to bullying and harassment information requests.

Today, most jurisdictions in Canada have legislation on preventing workplace bullying and violence. The federal Bill C-65 is expected to come into force in 2020, providing protection to workers in federally regulated industries across Canada. WorkSafeBC is currently working on a regulatory review project to ensure that our provincial legislation on bullying and harassment is as clear and effective as possible

For more information on the prevention of bullying and harassment in the workplace, call the WorkSafeBC Prevention Information Line at 1-888-621-7233.

About the author

Kira is the Prevention Field Services Manager responsible for psychological safety at WorkSafeBC. She has degrees in engineering and psychology, and has worked in health and safety for over 20 years. She is based in Kelowna

Footnotes:
  1. CareerBuilder.ca. (2012). CareerBuilder.ca study finds workers feeling bullied in the workplace. www.careerbuilder.ca/ca/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspx?sd=8%2F29%2F2012&id=pr50&ed=12%2F31%2F2012.
  2. The quoted text appears in three WorkSafeBC policies on bullying and harassment: D3-115-2, Employer Duties – Workplace Bullying and Harassment; D3-116-1, Worker Duties – Workplace Bullying and Harassment; and D3-117-2, Supervisor Duties – Workplace Bullying and Harassment.

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