Meeting new bullying and harassment policies

Does Worksafe BC's new bullying and harassment legislation apply to your organization? What HR needs to know.

On November 1, 2013, WorkSafe BC’s new Bullying and Harassment policies came into effect for all provincially regulated employers in British Columbia.  Besides including a partial definition of bullying and harassment, the policies require employers, supervisors and workers to take reasonable steps to prevent or otherwise minimize workplace bullying and harassment.  These new policies follow the changes made to the BC Workers Compensation Act on July 1, 2012 which allowed workers to claim benefits for diagnosed mental disorders caused by cumulative, work-related stressors including bullying and harassment. 

WorkSafe BC has also issued a policy outlining what it considers the “reasonable steps” employers must take to comply with the policies: 

  1. Develop a policy statement that bullying and harassment is not acceptable or tolerated in the workplace;
  2. Take steps to prevent where possible, or minimize workplace bullying and harassment;
  3. Develop and implement procedures for workers to report bullying and harassment;
  4. Develop and implement procedures for employer response (investigation / follow up / record keeping) to incidents or complaints;
  5. Inform employees of the policy and steps taken;
  6. Train supervisors and workers on (a) how to recognize bullying and harassment, (b) procedures for dealing with bullying and harassment, and (c) reporting bullying and harassment; and
  7. Review the policy statement, prevention and procedures with all employees, on an annual basis.

WorkSafe BC has prepared a number of resources to assist employers to comply with the new laws.  However, since many employers already have policies that deal with respectful workplaces, it may be more practical to review and amend existing policies as required, rather than introduce a brand new policy which may have duplicate provisions.  Employers with employees in a number of provinces including BC, will also want to review their policies to ensure that they comply with the WorkSafe BC requirements.  As with most employee policies, simple, clear language and rules are best.  Therefore, modifying existing policies to ensure a standardized approach to all harassment and bullying issues is usually a better approach than introducing new policies with duplicate procedures. 

Whether employers adopt new policies to deal with Bullying and Harassment, or modify their existing policies, it is important that employers inform employees of the steps being taken to prevent or minimize bullying and harassment in the workplace, including training and annual reviews.  It is expected that WorkSafe BC will be taking steps to ensure that these new policies are implemented so employers should be prepared for inspections and compliance follow up.

While federally regulated employers are not affected by these new regulations, their employee workplace injury and compensation claims are governed by provincial workers compensation schemes.  That means that BC employees of federally regulated employers are also able to claim compensation for mental disorders that were caused by bullying and harassment. Accordingly, both provincially regulated and federally regulated employers will want to consider whether they have effective prevention strategies and responses for workplace bullying and harassment.

Bullying and harassment affects everyone in the workplace, not just the intended victim. If not checked, employers can expect to incur more than the costs related to increased absences, injuries and disability claims.  Since bullying and harassment also has an impact on employees indirectly affected, employers will also incur costs associated with decreased productivity and employee engagement, as well as employee attrition.   Accordingly, while employers in BC have new legal obligations to take steps to prevent and minimize workplace bullying and harassment, there are good business reasons for ensuring that theirs is a culture which encourages and fosters respectful relationships and communications at all levels of the organisation.  

- Nicole Byres

For more information and advice contact a Miller Thomson lawyer at: [email protected].

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