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Workplace Bullying and Harassment

Dealing with Workplace Bullying and Harassment

Workplace bullying and harassment is usually a repeated pattern of negative behaviour aimed at a specific person or group. It can also occur however, in isolated, single incidents. The pattern of behaviour is usually intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate. It can include physical abuse or threat of abuse but it usually causes psychological rather than physical harm. Workplace harassment can involve sexual harassment and discrimination.

The most harmful forms of bullying and harassment are usually subtle, rather than direct. Harassment can occur through face-to-face interactions, verbal or non-verbal communication, and written communication (including email, texts, social media platforms).

Bullying and harassing behaviours can be exhibited by managers, supervisors, co-workers, subordinates, or clients. In other words, anyone within your organization, and anyone who interacts with people in your organization can be a bully.

Employer Responsibilities

If a situation of harassment or bullying arises in the workplace, or if an allegation of harassment has been made, an employer’s first stop should be the anti-harassment or respectful workplace policy in place.  This policy, if drafted properly, should anticipate such situations and set out a process for investigating and resolving them.

Because harassment is a safety issue identified under Occupational Health and Safety legislation, having a policy to manage harassment and other forms of violence is mandatory in Alberta.

Specific Examples of Workplace Bullying and Harassment

  • Physical or verbal threats
  • Intimidating by standing too close or making inappropriate gestures
  • Using insults or put downs
  • Undermining or deliberately impeding a person’s work
  • Yelling or using profanity, insults or belittling
  • Withholding necessary information or purposely giving the wrong information
  • Spreading malicious rumours, gossip, or innuendo
  • Excluding or isolating someone socially
  • Making personal attacks based on someone’s private life or personal traits

This last example may also constitute discrimination under the Alberta Human Rights Act.

Examples of Workplace Bullying and Harassment Specific to Supervisors and Management

  • Removing areas of responsibilities without cause
  • Setting impossible deadlines that will set up the person to fail
  • Punishing where unwarranted or undeserved
  • Making unreasonable demands, constantly changing guidelines
  • Threatening job loss/blocking attempts at training and/or promotions
  • Providing feedback in a demeaning and belittling manner
  • Even where the feedback may be justified, the manner of the communication can constitute bullying and harassment

What is not Workplace Bullying and Harassment?

  • Does not include any reasonable action that is taken by an employer relating to the management and direction of the employer’s workers or the worksite.
  • Expressing differences of opinion
  • Constructive feedback
  • Making a legitimate complaint about someone’s conduct through established procedures
  • Taking reasonable and respectful management action with regard to:
    • Job duties and work to be performed
    • Workloads and deadlines
    • Layoffs, transfers, promotions and reorganizations
    • Work instructions, supervision and feedback
    • Work evaluation and performance management
    • Discipline, suspensions and terminations
    • Enforcement of policies and procedures

When managerial authority is exercised reasonably and respectfully, then those actions will not be considered harassment.

The impact of harassment in the workplace should not be underestimated. It can be profound and pervasive and can cause serious harm to the target(s) of the harassment, to witnesses of the harassment, and to the organization itself.

The impact on targets of harassment can include:

  • Distress, anxiety, sleep disturbances, clinical depression, suicidal thoughts, PTSD
  • Impaired concentration or ability to make decisions
  • Physical illness

If you are dealing with or investigating a situation involving harassment or bullying, our employment lawyers have the experience to ensure individual rights are protected and organizations take the right steps to resolve the situation.  We regularly conduct and oversee investigations, and assist businesses and individuals to find and implement resolutions.