In March of 2013, WorkSafeBC's Board of Directors approved
three Occupational Health and Safety Policies (the "OHS
Policies") dealing with workplace bullying and harassment.
The new OHS Policies impose a positive duty on B.C. employers to
"take all reasonable steps to prevent where possible, or
otherwise minimize, workplace bullying and harassment."
Flowing from this, employers are now required to establish internal
policies and procedures to prevent and address bullying and
harassment in the workplace. A toolkit was released by WorkSafeBC
last month to assist employers in complying with these
The OHS Policies follow amendments to the Workers
Compensation Act (the "Act"), which came
into effect July 1, 2012 and expanded the scope of compensation
claims involving mental disorders ("Bill 14"). The
recently enacted section 5.1 of the Act provides that, in
certain circumstances, a worker may be compensated for a mental
disorder that does not result from an injury. This includes where
the mental disorder is the result of workplace bullying and
Bullying and harassment is defined in the OHS Policies as
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, but
excludes any reasonable action taken by an
employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of
workers or the place of employment".
The OHS Policies also provide examples of behaviour or comments
that might constitute bullying and harassment, including insults,
verbal aggression, spreading malicious rumours, and vandalizing
Whereas Bill 14 addresses workplace bullying and harassment from
a compensatory perspective, the new OHS Policies focus on
preventing its occurrence in the workplace. Specifically,
they identify what WorkSafeBC considers to be reasonable steps for
an employer to take to prevent or minimize workplace bullying and
harassment. These include the following:
Developing a policy statement to prevent and address workplace
bullying and harassment as not being accepted or tolerated;
Developing and implementing reporting procedures;
Developing and implementing procedures for dealing with
incidents and complaints;
Informing workers about the policy statement and steps taken to
prevent or minimize bullying and harassment;
Training supervisors and workers about recognizing, responding
to, and reporting incidents and complaints of bullying and
Annually reviewing the policy statement and procedures;
Not engaging in bullying and harassment of workers and
Consistently applying internal policies and procedures on
bullying and harassment.
Developing Bullying and Harassment Policies
Employers should use the definition of bullying and harassment,
as well as the examples and sample policies available online, as a
guide. However, they should also carefully consider how the wording
and content of their policies can be customized to their specific
industries and workplaces.
For employers who already have respectful workplace or similar
policies in place, these policies should be revised to incorporate
the new OHS requirements. For example, employers may want to
Including the organization's bullying and harassment policy
statement in existing policies or programs;
Updating existing reporting procedures to specifically include
bullying and harassment; and
Providing bullying and harassment training at the same time as
other OHS training.
Finally, the OHS Policies and the toolkit do not expressly state
how employers should implement the requirements. However,
it is clear that employers should have been in a position to
distribute their policies and procedures on or around November 1,
2013, and should soon have a plan in place to train supervisors and
workers shortly thereafter. Supervisors and workers should be
trained on what is and what is not to be considered bullying and
harassment, including the significant distinction between
exercising legitimate managerial authority and bullying and
Supervisors should also be properly trained to recognize the
difference between bullying and harassment and interpersonal
conflict: not every workplace disagreement or uncomfortable
interaction is considered bullying and harassment.
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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