Overview of Workplace Bullying and Harassment

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This section focuses on why it is important to address workplace bullying and harassment and how it is defined. Examples of workplace bullying and harassment are also provided.

Why is it important?

As a society, we recognize that every employee has the right to work in a safe, respectful workplace. Bullying and harassment are health and safety issues. In British Columbia, our right to health and safety in the workplace is protected by a law called the Workers Compensation Act. The government gives responsibility to implement the act to WorkSafeBC.

What is workplace bullying and harassment?

WorkSafeBC defines workplace bullying and harassment as "any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a worker that the person knew or reasonably should have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated."

Workplace bullying and harassment can happen to anyone, at any workplace. The workplace can be large or small, unionized or non-unionized. The workplace can be in the public sector, the private sector or the not-for-profit sector.

The bully may be one individual, or there may be a group of bullies. The target of the workplace bullying and harassment may be one person or a group.

What is not considered workplace bullying or harassment?

It is not workplace bullying or harassment when an employer or supervisor:

  • expresses differences of opinion,
  • offers constructive feedback or advice about work-related behaviour,
  • takes reasonable action to manage a worker’s performance or to assign work, or
  • takes reasonable disciplinary action.

Examples of workplace bullying and harassment

These examples show some of the ways that bullying and harassment can happen in the workplace. They do not mention all forms of bullying and harassment.

If someone is bullying and or harassing you, they might use one or more of these behaviours:

  • yells at you, insults you, or use other ways to make you afraid,
  • spreads negative and untrue gossip about you,
  • makes jokes that are offensive,
  • refuses to speak to you,
  • criticizes you constantly,
  • makes you do something humiliating,
  • withholds necessary information or deliberately gives you the wrong information,
  • interferes with your personal belongings or work equipment,
  • prevents you from doing your work properly, or
  • gives you deadlines that are impossible to meet.

The bully may use these behaviours in person, by phone or online. When it happens online, it is called cyberbullying.

What protections do BC workers have against bullying and harassment?

In British Columbia there are protections against workplace bullying and harassment. It is important that every worker, manager, and supervisor is aware of the law and policies on workplace bullying and harassment:

  • The Workers Compensation Act is the law that is meant to protect workers in BC. Recent changes to the law address workplace bullying and harassment.
  • WorkSafeBC is the body that implements this law. It makes policies to protect the health and safety of workers. These policies include policies about workplace bullying and harassment.
  • Almost all employers in British Columbia must register for insurance coverage with WorkSafeBC to protect their workers. This means that these changes apply to almost everyone in BC who has a job.
  • The changes to the Workers Compensation Act also mean that people who are bullied or harassed in the workplace may be able to make a claim for compensation under that law.

When does the bullying and harassment becomes a crime?

Some bullying and harassment may be a crime. It is criminal behaviour when the bully uses physical force, or threatens to use it and a worker has reason to believe his or her safety is at risk.

The following actions are considered crimes:

  • If someone at the workplace hits you or threatens to hit you and you believe they could, it is the crime of assault.
  • If someone forces you to have sex without your consent, it is the crime of sexual assault.
  • If someone threatens you, or constantly watches, follows or contacts you in a way that makes you fear for your safety.

If anyone commits any of these crimes at the workplace, report the incident to your supervisor or manager, and call the police.

Is workplace bullying and harassment the same as discrimination?

Some bullying and harassment behaviours may also be considered discrimination under the BC Human Rights Code — such as when the behaviour involves racial or sexual discrimination towards a worker.

The BC Human Rights Code protects workers from unlawful discrimination. Discrimination means that someone treats you differently or worse than others because of their prejudice about the group you belong to. For example, the person may target you because of your race, ethnic origin, sex, disability, age, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.

For more information contact the BC Human Rights Tribunal:

BC Human Rights Tribunal
1170 - 605 Robson Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 5J3
Phone: 604-775-2000
Fax: 604-775-2020
TTY: 604-775-2021
Toll-free in BC: 1-888-440-8844
Email: BCHumanRightsTribunal@gov.bc.ca
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by People's Law School, 2014.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence Workplace Bullying and Harassment © People's Law School is, except for the images, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.