On November 1, 2013, new WorkSafeBC policies came into force
dealing with workplace bullying and harassment. All employers are
now required to be compliant, as the three month "grace
period" ended on February 1, 2014.
The policies define bullying and harassment and explain the
scope of duties for employers and employees in preventing and
addressing this conduct. The policies apply to all provincially
regulated employers in British Columbia, regardless of the size of
the workforce or nature of the business.
What is workplace bullying and harassment?
WorkSafeBC has provided a succinct definition of bullying and
"Bullying and harassment
includes any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a
worker that the person knew or ought to have known would reasonably
cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated, but excludes any
reasonable action taken by a manager or supervisor relating to the
management and direction of workers or the place of
This definition is broad and open to a liberal interpretation,
however the express exclusion for the exercise of managerial
authority should give employers some comfort.
What are the duties of employers and employees under the new
Employers have three basic obligations under the policies. They
Develop policies that prohibit bullying and harassment;
Develop reporting and investigative procedures; and
Educate their employees about their policy and their duties and
obligations under it.
All employees have a duty to not engage in bullying and
harassment, and must report this conduct if they experience or
witness it in their workplace.
How will WorkSafeBC enforce the policies?
While all employers are now required to be in compliance,
WorkSafeBC has indicated that they will not be engaging in an
"enforcement blitz." WorkSafeBC inspectors are now
checking for compliance with the new policy as part of their
routine inspections of workplaces. There would also be compliance
inspections if there is an express complaint or a claim by an
employee for benefits for gradual onset mental stress.
In addition, WorkSafeBC will initiate inspections if it becomes
aware of bullying or harassment issues in a workplace, even if
there is no complaint. For example, there were stories in the media
recently about alleged harassment and bullying in the West
Vancouver Police Department. WorkSafeBC has announced that it will
investigate those allegations and also determine if the West
Vancouver Police Department is in compliance with the new
requirements. This action was taken by WorkSafeBC even though no
complaint had been filed. The inspection was triggered by
allegations that came to the attention of WorkSafeBC through the
WorkSafeBC has created a complaint process for workers who
believe their employers have not met their obligations under the
policies. If WorkSafeBC investigates and is satisfied that the
employer has failed to meet its duties, orders and fines may be
It is important to note that WorkSafeBC will not adjudicate or
consider the merits of a bullying or harassment complaint. An
employee who disagrees with the outcome of his or her
employer's investigation will have no recourse under
In extreme cases, workplace bullying and harassment could result
in a worker filing a claim with WorkSafeBC for gradual onset mental
stress. To be awarded benefits, however, workers must prove that
the workplace stress has caused a psychiatric disorder, which must
be diagnosed by a psychiatrist or psychologist. This is a very high
threshold that few claims will be able to meet.
How can your workplace become compliant?
If you have not yet incorporated the new policies into your
workplace, here are the steps you need to take:
Develop a policy that describes what bullying and harassment is
and states that it will not be tolerated in the workplace.
Create a reporting procedure that details how complaints can be
made and what information needs to be included.
Develop an investigative procedure. Procedures should allow for
some flexibility so that you can appropriately tailor your response
to the circumstances and severity of each case.
Educate your workforce about bullying and harassment, your
policy, and their duties and responsibilities. Different kinds of
training tools can be used, from in-person seminars to webinars and
computer based learning modules.
WorkSafeBC has a variety of useful tools and resources,
including templates for policies, in the bullying and harassment
section of their website which you can access here.
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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