If you watched the popular “Back to the Future” movie series, you may remember the character, Biff Tannen. Biff was a classic high school bully – a towering figure who used intimidation to get his way. He picked on smaller classmates, often demanding they do his homework for him. He reminded everyone of his power when he would knock his knuckles on his victim’s head, stating “Hello! Anybody Home?” or turn to them, exclaiming “What are you looking at, Butthead?!”
“Bullies like Biff exist not only on the school yard, but also in the workplace. Often, the bullying in such instances is more subtle, but is nonetheless problematic for those employees who are subjected to it” But, what can we do about workplace bullying?
“As of June 1, 2018, the Alberta Government brought into force a number of significant amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. One momentous change has been to define and prohibit both “harassment” and “violence”:
The new legislation defines “harassment” as a single or repeated incident(s) of objectionable or unwelcome conduct, comment, bullying or action by a person that knows or ought reasonably to know will or would cause offence or humiliation to a worker, or affects the worker’s health and safety. This includes any sexual solicitation or advance.
“Violence” includes the threatened, attempted or actual conduct of a person that causes or is likely to cause physical or psychological injury or harm, including domestic or sexual violence at a work site or which is work related.
“At the end of the day, what does this new amendment mean for your workplace?”
Occupational health and safety officers now have the right to inspect workplaces, including collecting documents and conducting interviews with employees, in order to determine if the employer or one of its supervisors has committed or condoned any incident(s) of workplace harassment or violence. If such an incident has occurred, the officer can issue a compliance order to the employer directing that the harassment or violence cease and to take certain measures to ensure the order is complied with.
“These are extraordinary changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.”
It is recommended that employers develop, or revise, their office procedures to address these changes. Importantly, employers may find it necessary to train their supervisors and staff about workplace bullying to ensure compliance with these new legislative changes.
Darren Schmidt is a lawyer at Stringam LLP’s Lethbridge and Fort McMurray offices. He maintains a focus of employment and labour law and has a pre-law background as a human resources practitioner.