Canada: Workplace Policies On Bullying And Harassment: Are You Ready?

On November 1, 2013, three new Occupational Health and Safety policies dealing with workplace bullying and harassment under Sections 115, 116 and 117 of the Workers Compensation Act (the "Policies") took effect. The Policies define bullying and harassment and place mandatory requirements on employers, workers and supervisors to prevent and address it. Business owners and employers should be reviewing their in-house policies and procedure manuals as well as their training programs to ensure compliance with the new law.

Under the Policies, employers, workers and supervisors share the obligation to prevent or minimize bullying and harassment in the workplace. Specifically, employers have a duty to train their supervisors and employees on how to recognize:

  • the potential for
  • how to respond to, and
  • the procedure for reporting

bullying and harassment. A worker has a duty to take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of himself/herself and other persons and, as a result, a worker must take all reasonable steps to prevent, where possible, or otherwise minimize, workplace bullying and harassment. A supervisor also has the duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of workers under their supervision by taking all reasonable steps to prevent or minimize workplace bullying and harassment.

Bullying and harassment now 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, but excludes any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers. The Policies are silent as to whether bullying and harassment must be defined within a business' internal policies or procedure manuals. As this is an evolving area of the law, the adoption of a definition that allows flexibility for both reasonable on-site training and discipline, while acknowledging that abusive, threatening or targeted behaviour is not acceptable or tolerated by the employer, is recommended.

Compliance with the new law will be mandatory; however, WorksafeBC has yet to provide any information with respect to onsite investigations or compliance checks. In any event, it is recommended that businesses and employers review their policies and procedure manuals for the purpose of developing and implementing:

  • procedures for reporting incidents or complaints, including a procedure for reporting bullying or harassment if the alleged complaints are against the employer or supervisor;
  • procedures for investigation, how investigation records are to be kept and procedures for appropriate corrective action; and
  • an annual training program for supervisors and workers which includes the identification of potential bullying and harassment, the appropriate response and the procedures in place for reporting these types of incidents.

It is important to note that bullying and harassment includes any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a worker, which would also include "customers." It is, therefore, important to ensure that policy and procedure manuals outline specific guidelines for reporting and investigating alleged incidents of bullying and harassment by members of the public visiting a retail outlet or other business.

The considerations outlined above are not meant to be exhaustive. WorksafeBC is in the process of developing new guidelines and a tool kit to assist businesses and employers to comply with the new law. If you require assistance navigating this evolving area of the law, we would be happy to be of service.

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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