British Columbia Workers'
Compensation Act (the WCA) has been
amended to specifically to address bullying and harassment in the
workplace. The amendments became effective July 1, 2012, and
broadened the circumstances in which an employee may be entitled to
compensation for a mental disorder (see our previous blog post here). The amendments provide that a worker
may be entitled to compensation under the WCA if the mental
disorder is predominantly caused by a significant work-related
stressor, including bullying or harassment, or a cumulative series
of significant work-related stressors, arising out of and in the
course of the worker's employment. Previously, a worker
was only entitled to compensation for a workplace stress-related
illness if the mental stress arose from an "acute reaction to
a sudden and traumatic event".
In addition to broadening the definition of mental disorder,
WorkSafeBC's Board of Directors has approved three Occupational
Health and Safety Policies (the Policies) that clarify the role of
employers, supervisors and workers in the prevention of workplace
bullying and harassment in Sections 115, 116 and 117 of the
WCA. The Policies take effect on November 1,
2013 and WorkSafeBC expects that all parties - employers,
supervisors and workers - will be compliant with them by this
The amendments and the Policies are reflective of a trend in
Canadian occupational health and safety legislation, recognizing
the importance of psychological health in the workplace, negative
effects of bullying, and associated costs of same in the workplace
and society. The amended legislation and Policies set out a number
of steps that employers are required to take in order to be
compliant. In general, employers are to conduct a risk
assessment of the workplace and consider if the nature of the
workplace and its characteristics will give rise to an enhanced
risk for bullying and harassment. Employers are also required
to develop or amend their existing policies, procedures and work
arrangements to prevent bullying and harassment in the
workplace. WorkSafe BC will consider anti-bullying and
anti-harassment procedures to be reasonable where they include: how
and when investigations will be conducted; what will be included in
the investigation; the roles and responsibilities of employers,
supervisors, workers and others; follow-up to investigations
(description of corrective actions, timeframe, dealing with adverse
symptoms, etc.); and record keeping requirements.
WorkSafeBC has issued a tool kit of resources to help employers
become compliant (available here).
It should be noted that the Rehabilitation Services and Claims
Manual states that workplace stressors, such as bullying and
harassment do not include interpersonal conflict unless it is
abusive or threatening. This is an important distinction as not
every isolated incident of disrespectful or inappropriate conduct
will amount to bullying or harassment. Employers need to be able to
investigate the root cause of conflict and where appropriate, make
findings that the conduct is simply interpersonal conflict. The
definition of bullying and harassment contained in the Policies
does not contain an exception for interpersonal conflict but this
does not mean that employers could not do so in their own policies
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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It is no surprise that emotions can run high during a workplace investigation. Whether the complaint concerns harassment, theft or other alleged misconduct, there is often a tendency for parties to vigorously try to advance their version of events.
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