Are You Being Bullied At Work? Find Out.

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Are you being bullied at work?

As an employment lawyer who is often tasked with looking into matters of workplace bullying as an independent investigator, I can tell you that if your answer is yes, you’re not alone.

While employers are working harder than ever to create safe and inclusive workplaces for their employees, cases of workplace bullying persist.

Why?

There are numerous factors that contribute to the persistence of workplace bullying, including:

  • Lack of awareness of the effects of bullying
  • Inaccurate perception of performance management (i.e. the belief that pushing employees will deliver better and faster results)
  • Workplace cultures that breed incivility

Whatever the reason, it is important to recognize that workplace bullying is not tolerated under the law.

For example, Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) sets out the rights and duties for occupational health and safety of all parties in the workplace. These rights and duties include protection for employees from workplace violence and harassment.

What constitutes workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment under OHSA means engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. It can include:

  • Unwelcome words or actions that are known or should be know to be offensive, embarrassing, humiliating or demeaning to a worker or group of workers
  • Behaviour that intimidates, isolates, or even discriminates against the targeted individual(s)

Common examples are yelling, targeting, gossiping, shunning, slamming doors, throwing objects, profanity and abusive language, and so on.

If the harassment is based on such grounds as age, gender, sexual orientation, sex, marital status, family status, disability, race, ethnic origin, then it may also be a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of certain grounds.

A word of caution

It’s important to keep in mind that not all actions and conduct will amount to bullying and/or harassment.

Reasonable action or conduct by an employer, manager or supervisor that is part of his or her normal work function is not normally workplace harassment, unless it is done in an uncivil manner.

Examples could include:

  • Changes in work assignments
  • Scheduling, job assessment and evaluation
  • A civil disagreement
  • Legitimate performance management
  • Implementation of dress codes
  • Disciplinary action

It is therefore important to critically assess the nature of the behaviour before concluding that it is harassment or bullying.

If you are determined that you’re being bullied, what can you do?

You may wish to report the behaviour to your organization or organization’s Human Resources department. There will likely be a policy on workplace harassment or respectful behaviour in the workplace, which sets out the organization’s standards and the process for initiating complaints.

Your organization will then investigate your complaint, which entails gathering your evidence, the evidence of the alleged bully, as well as the evidence of any relevant witnesses.

In order to assist with the investigation process, and in view of keeping track of the incidents, it may be wise to keep a detailed diary/journal of the incidents as they occur.

While it is difficult to face workplace bullying, realizing that there are outlets (i.e. friends, family and now through the law, your employer by way of its obligations to respond to harassment) is a crucial first step.

Disclaimer: This article is for general discussion purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice.

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About the author

Parisa Nikfarjam is an employment lawyer with Rubin Thomlinson LLP. She supports both employee and employer clients with legal counsel in all areas of employment law and workplace human rights. Parisa is a recent graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, where she earned her Juris Doctor degree. Parisa writes numerous articles on employment law topics for a variety of publications including HR Connected and Lexology, and enjoys speaking to human resources professionals, educators, business owners, and recent graduates about workplace law issues.