Melanie Vipond, a lawyer specializing in workplace law at Gall, Legge, Grant & Munroe LLP in Vancouver, has some useful advice for you as you ensure that your company is compliant with the WorkSafeBC legislation, which came into effect on Nov. 1, 2013.
As you’re already aware, you must be able to show that you have implemented a comprehensive, company-wide anti-bullying and harassment policy, that you communicated this policy to all of your employees, that they had the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback, and that a practical, confidential complaint procedure and a commitment to a timely response by the company were in place and understood by all.
But writing the policy needn’t be arduous. Referring to WorkSafeBC’s own online bullying and harassment prevention tool kit, Vipond says, “you can cut and paste the definitions directly into your policy.” WorkSafeBC’s online template is indeed “a great starting point,” says Moshin Manji, operations project and communications manager for Boston Pizza International Inc. “This being a policy that is mandatory, it’s definitely a great tool, a fantastic template to work off if you don’t know where to start,” he says. “I was able to use a lot of the language directly off the sample documents and then customize it accordingly.” Manji also accessed WorkSafeBC’s digital material to enhance Boston Pizza’s anti-bullying and harassment online training course: “There are a lot of great examples and animations, so I could cover a topic and then direct the user to an animated clip from WorkSafeBC.”
Your policy needs to be crystal clear in several crucial areas.
- Begin, Vipond says, with a one-sentence policy statement affirming that bullying and harassment are not tolerated in your workplace. “That’s something WorkSafeBC likes to see, a quick statement on the company’s position.”
- Emphasize that this policy applies to all employees and contractors. Then spell out the sort of conduct that is prohibited. This is where you should point out that reasonable management direction does not constitute bullying. “Just because an employee doesn’t like a rule, procedure or decision, it doesn’t mean that a manager is bullying on a daily basis, unless the manager is giving directions in a bullying or threatening way.”
- Outline the responsibility of all employees and supervisors to comply with the policy and participate in related mandatory training.
- Describe the complaint procedure you have put in place. Assure your employees that complaints will be held in confidentiality, unless disclosure is required by law; that no complainant will ever be subject to retaliation; and that complaints will be addressed in a timely manner.
“In a nutshell,” says Vipond, “have a policy, communicate that policy and train employees on it, and then review that policy once a year. There’s a WorkSafeBC requirement to do an annual review.” It is not enough to simply have a policy. You must train supervisors and workers to recognize the potential for bullying and harassment, and to respond appropriately.
How you perform training and reviews is up to you, but Vipond strongly recommends that you get every employee to sign off on your company’s anti-bullying and harassment policy. “Sit down with your employees, give them a copy of the policy, go through it with them, answer any questions, and then have them sign and date an acknowledgement that they have received the policy, have had a chance to review it and have been trained on it. You can then put that paper in their personnel file, so if someone raises a claim and WorkSafeBC comes knocking, asking what you have to done to protect against this situation, you can show that the employee knew better.”
Some employers may wish to enhance their anti-bullying and harassment training by bringing in a third-party consultant, but Vipond issues a caution: “You could have an outside consultant come in and explain bullying and harassment, but if the company doesn’t have a policy and training in place, it would be found to be non-compliant.”
6 Things to Do When WorkSafeBC Accepts Your Employee’s Bullying & Harassment Complaint
WorkSafeBC’s Bullying and Harassment Prevention Tool Kit
WorkSafeBC’s Backgrounder on Workplace Bullying and Harassment
WorkSafeBC’s Employer Fact Sheet on Occupational Health & Safety Bullying and Harassment Policies