Ending Workplace Bullying in B.C.

Workplace bullying | BCBusiness
St. John’s Ambulance has a free online course for businesses looking to comply with the WorkSafeBC guidelines (bc.sjatraining.ca/Bill14.php)

Hundreds of B.C. workers have filed compensation claims citing bullying as the cause of their workplace injury. WorkSafeBC thinks education is the solution

When a cook fainted on a shift in February last year at a Vancouver eatery, he blamed his domineering supervisor for his woes. His solution was to file a claim with WorkSafeBC for lost wages against his employer on the grounds of bullying, armed with a psychiatrist’s diagnosis of a mental disorder, for which he had been prescribed methadone.

The cook’s claim was ultimately unsuccessful because his complaint didn’t meet the agency’s strict criteria for remediation for bullying in the workplace. In fact, most don’t.

In July 2012 bullying and harassment were added to the Worker’s Compensation Act following a request from the provincial government as grounds for a worker’s compensation claim. And in March 2013, WorkSafeBC reinforced its focus on prevention with a change to its occupational health and safety guidelines, adding measures intended to address bullying in the workplace. Those guidelines came into effect last November.

The province’s Worker’s Compensation Act allows workers to be compensated for a diagnosed mental disorder, typically anxiety or depression, that does not result from an injury, and that is a reaction to traumatic events, or is caused by a work-related stressor. As one such stressor, WorkSafeBC defines bullying and harassment as “any inappropriate conduct or comment… that the person knew or ought to have reasonably known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated.”

Bullying has a direct and negative impact on work environments. “Ultimately, bullies hurt the bottom line and need to be dealt with quickly and publicly in order to restore justice to the workplace,” says Sandra Robinson, chair in organizational behaviour at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. “The mushroom effect goes far beyond the victims.”

Prior to the 2012 amendment that added bullying and harassment to the Worker’s Compensation Act, WorkSafeBC only covered time lost due to mental disorders caused by a traumatic event at work, and the threshold was high, according to Deborah Cushing, an associate at Lundell LLP in Vancouver specializing in employment law. A prison guard splattered with an inmate’s feces and a hostess scalded by plates fresh out of the oven, as in one cruel prank, both made the cut. Name-calling and teasing—unless they violated the B.C. Human Rights Code’s protection against discrimination on the grounds of race, sexual orientation or disability—did not.

WorkSafeBC received 2,842 compensation claims since legislation specifically addressing bullying was introduced in July 2012 on the grounds of mental disorders, a quarter of which cite bullying and harassment. But only a few dozen of those claims have been successful.

The bulk of the successful bullying-related claims came from workers in high-stress, public-sector occupations, such as bus drivers or nurses and attendants in hospitals and psychiatric and long-term care facilities. A handful came from restaurants, and only two came from white-collar workplaces.

It’s important to remember that not every unpleasant event or conversation constitutes bullying. According to the Act, cases involving the regular management of employees—including denial of overtime, changing work duties and conversations about productivity—are excluded from definitions of harassment and bullying, adds Joe Pinto, a senior manager at WorkSafeBC. 

What’s New
Bullying and harassment became grounds for Worker’s Compensation in 2012

Any inappropriate conduct or comment that causes a worker to be humiliated or intimidated

St. John’s Ambulance has a free online course in WorkSafeBC guidelines (bc.sjatraining.ca/Bill14.php)