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Conference told of B.C. workplace bullying, harassment legislation

If you have employees in British Columbia, workplace safety extends well beyond training and the maintenance of buildings and equipment.

That’s because Alberta’s western neighbour now has legislation governing bullying and harassment of workers.

And that’s created a myriad of obligations for employers, said Andrew Wood, a partner with Vancouver law firm Harris & Company LLP.

Wood discussed some of those obligations during a presentation at the Petroleum Services Association of Canada’s spring conference in Red Deer on Tuesday.

He described how B.C.’s Workers Compensation Act was changed in July 2012 to include mental disorders caused by workplace bullying and harassment.

That led to the Workers’ Compensation Board (WorkSafeBC) developing policies that defined workplace bullying and harassment, and outlined the duties of employers, supervisors and workers.

“Hence, we now have bullying and harassment incorporated into our legislation as a recognized workplace hazard, which means of course, not only does it entitle employees to make claims if they become injured as a result of bullying and harassment, but it also imposed health and safety obligations on the workplace authorities — so employer, supervisors, managers and workers themselves,” said Wood.

“That’s a pretty big impact, and it’s imposing huge obligations on employers who are doing business in the province.”

They include having to develop a written policy statement with respect to bullying and harassment, taking steps to minimize or prevent problems from occurring, creating procedures for investigating and responding to complaints, and implementing a training program for workers and supervisors.

Employers are responsible for bullying and harassment that affects their workers off-site, even if the perpetrator is not an employee; as well as bullying and harassment by visitors to their work place. And employees have an obligation to report such behavior, whether they’re the victim or just a witness.

“If an employer even hears about something, even if it’s heard second-hand or a rumour, that there is bullying and harassment in the workplace, there’s going to be an expectation that the employer investigates, and if there is bullying and harassment, deals with it,” said Wood.

The definition of bullying and harassment includes both verbal and physical acts, he said, with the test whether the victim felt humiliated or intimidated. Gossip or social isolation could fall under this definition.

Exceptions are reasonable actions taken by employers or supervisors in the course of their duties directing the workplace.

Many B.C. employers are currently not in compliance with the new requirements, and WorkSafeBC inspectors are now sanctioning those they catch, said Wood.

Alberta companies are subject to the regulations to the extent that they employ or have workers in B.C. But their exposure might one day expand to include operations in this province, said Wood.

“I suspect you probably will get some legislation like this at some point.”

The Petroleum Services Association of Canada’s spring conference continues today at the Sheraton Red Deer Hotel.



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