Bully-proofing the Workplace – An Employer’s Responsibilities

We hear and read about it too often, someone is bullied to the point that they quit their job, suffer stress related health issues, and sadly even take their own lives.  Yet there is still very limited Occupational Health and Safety legislation in Canada that specifically address bullying in the workplace, in fact to date, only BC, AB, MB and SK address workplace violence, including bullying, in their Occupational Health and Safety laws. But in 2003, The Kavanagh Decision (Newfoundland Association of Public and Private Employees v. Newfoundland) forced employers to take the issue of workplace harassment very seriously. The province of Newfoundland was ordered to pay $875,000 in damages to a disabled government worker who terminated his employment after a campaign of harassment by his co-workers.

No-bullyingThis ruling showed employers across Canada that there are serious consequences for allowing workplace bullying to continue.  This precedent setting case sends a hardy message to employees as well; it’s wrong to allow this type of behaviour to take place.   It’s no longer acceptable to observe this demoralizing conduct and remain silent, yet the fear of speaking up for oneself, or in the defence of others, paralyzes the victim and enables the perpetrator.

Regardless of the void of legislation, employers have a responsibility to protect employees from the risks of being bullied in their workplace. It’s up to the employer to set the precedence within their environment and foster a safe and respectful culture for their employee group.   A prevention program reflected in a written policy (can include bullying, harassment and physical violence) communicates Management’s commitment to a respectful workplace and intolerance to these behaviours. All new employees upon orientation should be given a copy of this policy and sign-off on having received, read and understood the policy and course of actions the organization undertakes to prevent this behaviour and the consequences for participating in such conduct.  When employees sign-off, they declare their understanding of Management’s position and the deterrent is established. This is a start to building a healthy respectful workplace where bullying, harassment and physical violence is not accepted.  Following through is the reinforcement.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recommend the following general tips for the workplace:


  • Encourage everyone to act in a respectful, professional manner towards others
  • Educate everyone with regards to the seriousness of bullying
  • Try to work out solutions before situations get serious or out of control
  • Educate everyone about what is considered bullying and where/whom to go to for help
  • Treat all complaints seriously, and deal with them at the onset, confidentially
  • Train supervisor’s managers how to deal with complaints promptly and potential situations
  • Have an impartial third party help with a resolution, if necessary


  • DO NOT IGNORE any potential problems
  • DO NOT DELAY.  Act as soon as possible

As an employer; it’s imperative that you know your roles and responsibilities as well as your liabilities with respect to violence, including bullying in your workplace.  It’s sound advice to comply with OH&S laws of other provinces, because the courts will compare those requirements with your response to bullying in your workplace in order to determine if you acted reasonably and responsibly.

Prevention is better than a cure, and only an employer can provide the most important remedy – a healthy work environment.

If you would like to learn more about bullying in the workplace, check out


Linda_HudsonLinda Hudson owns Avail Human Resource Services, and offers consulting services to assist your organization in all aspects the Employer / Employee relationship.  Linda is available to discuss how she can be of assistance at linda@availhr.com or at 709-691-3458 or connect with her on LinkedIn.


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