ALERT: WorkSafeBC Introduces New Bullying & Harassment Policies

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In 2012, Bill 14, the Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2011, including provisions on bullying and harassment, took effect in BC. Highlights:

  • Revised wording from “mental stress” to “mental disorder”
  • A revised requirement for a diagnosis of a mental disorder to be from only a psychiatrist or psychologist
  • A new reference to bullying and harassment as significant work-related stressors
  • A “predominant cause” test for mental disorders caused by significant work-related stressors.

As a follow-up to the above changes, WorkSafeBC’s Board of Directors recently approved three new OHS workplace bullying and harassment policies to clarify the obligations of employers, workers and supervisors as to workplace bullying and harassment. These policies will take effect Nov. 1, 2013.

Secs. 115, 116 and 117 of the Workers Compensation Act set out the general duties of employers, workers and supervisors respectively. The new policies were developed not to change these legal duties but to clarify these obligations as they apply to preventing, when possible, or otherwise minimizing workplace bullying and harassment.

WorkSafeBC is also developing a new guideline and toolkit to help stakeholders comply with the new policies.

Highlights of the New Policies

All three of the new policies define bullying and harassment to INCLUDE “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 EXCLUDE “any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment.”

In other words, providing construction criticism of a worker’s job performance is not considered bullying or harassment.

In addition, the definition includes conduct by not only workplace stakeholders, but also outsiders, such as clients, contractors, members of the public or anyone a worker comes into contact with in the workplace.

Employer policy. The employer policy spells out the steps that WorkSafeBC considers reasonable ones for employers to take as to bullying and harassment, including:

  • Developing a policy statement that says workplace bullying and harassment aren’t acceptable or tolerated;
  • Taking steps to prevent or minimize bullying and harassment in the workplace;
  • Developing and implementing procedures for workers to report incidents or complaints of workplace bulling and harassment that cover how, when and to whom workers should report such incidents and complaints as well as procedures for when the alleged bully or harasser is the employer, supervisor or someone acting on the employer’s behalf;
  • Developing and implementing procedures for dealing with reported incidents or complaints, including how and when investigations will be conducted; what the investigation will include; the roles and responsibilities of employers, supervisors, workers and others in the investigation; investigation follow-up (such as corrective actions to be taken); and recordkeeping requirements;
  • Informing workers of the policy statement and any steps taken to prevent or minimize bullying and harassment;
  • Training workers and supervisors on recognizing the potential for bullying and harassment, responding to such conduct, procedures for reporting this conduct and how the employer will respond to such reports;
  • Conducting annual reviews of all of the above;
  • Not engaging in bullying and harassment of workers and supervisors; and
  • Applying and complying with the employer’s policies and procedures on bullying and harassment.

Bottom line: If WorkSafeBC says these are reasonable steps employers should take, employers in BC should take them.

For information and tools to help you take the above steps, go the OHS Insider’s Workplace Violence Compliance Centre.

Worker policy. The worker policy explains that workers have a duty to take reasonable care to protect the health and safety of themselves and others, including by:

  • Not engaging in bullying and harassment of co-workers, supervisors, the employer or anyone acting on the employer’s behalf;
  • Reporting bullying and harassment they observe or experience; and
  • Applying and complying with the employer’s policies and procedures on bullying and harassment.

Supervisor policy. The policy for supervisors says that a supervisor’s obligation to ensure the health and safety of workers includes:

  • Not engaging in bullying and harassment of workers, other supervisors, the employer or anyone acting on the employer’s behalf; and
  • Applying and complying with the employer’s policies and procedures on bullying and harassment.