How to Handle Bullying and Harassment in Canada

By Catherine Skrzypinski May 22, 2017

​VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada—British Columbia passed anti-bullying and anti-harassment legislation in July 2012, putting the responsibility for maintaining safety and preventing or minimizing workplace bullying and harassment in employers' hands.

Experts at the recent HR Conference & Tradeshow 2017, sponsored by the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources of British Columbia & Yukon, gave tips on how HR can stay compliant with relevant regulations when an employee reports bullying and harassment.

Deal with Stress

Some workers may claim that bullying or harassment on the job has caused them so much stress that they can't perform their duties.

For example: A hospital employee claims she cannot work because of stress after a patient's family member cursed at her. A supervisor should determine whether those obscenities from the patient's family amounted to workplace bullying and whether to reassign the patient to another nurse or otherwise alleviate the situation, said Angelica Marshall, HR director at Impark in Vancouver, a parking management firm. "Early intervention is important."

Shawn Mitton, prevention field services manager for WorkSafeBC—the province's workers' compensation program—explained that the abuse from the patient's family may be considered workplace bullying because an inappropriate comment toward the hospital worker would cause humiliation or intimidation, according to B.C.'s Policies Workers Compensation Act.

Should the employee take medical leave to deal with her stress, the employer should ensure she is trained to deal with stressful situations as soon as she returns, Marshall added. Managers should also support the worker's return by accommodating any work restrictions or limitations suggested by a medical provider.

A regulator must ask what the standard level of care is in the affected workplace and whether the stress arose from an employee's work duties, Mitton added.

Stress alone is not a disability, according to the B.C. Human Rights Code. But an employer should provide the employee a detailed medical questionnaire to determine if there is a legitimate disability that requires accommodation, noted Valerie Dixon, a labor and employment lawyer at Miller Thomson, a law firm in Vancouver.

Employers should also train employees to identify and report bullies and harassment, Dixon said.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Difficult Employees and Disruptive Behaviors]

Address Sexual Harassment

When an employee files a sexual harassment complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, an employer should select an objective person to investigate the matter, Marshall said.

"[Sexual harassment] tends to be an emotional topic. An impartial person needs to investigate."

Mitton advised employers not to express any judgments about the accusation or the accuser. "Ensure that people are comfortable in reporting sexual harassment." Sexual harassment may be considered workplace bullying because an inappropriate sexual comment toward a woman could cause humiliation or intimidation, according to the B.C.'s Policies Workers Compensation Act.

Employers should collect any verbal or written communication about the harassment; interview the accuser, the accused and other witnesses; and then discuss what disciplinary action to take if the accused is at fault, Marshall said.

Moreover, she said, if an employer finds that the accused was aided by a workplace culture that either ignores or condones sexual harassment, "sensitivity training should be focused on changing the company culture."


Catherine Skrzypinski, a freelance writer in Vancouver, covered the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources of British Columbia & Yukon's HR Conference and Tradeshow for SHRM Online.


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