Workplace bullying is a serious problem for thousands of Canadians at work. It can degrade one’s self worth and create serious health problems for workers and their families.
There has often been very little that could be done to stop the workplace bully in his or her tracks. But, in Ontario, there is now hope around the corner.
This month, Ontario’s Standing Committee on Social Policy will wrap up public hearings regarding Ontario's Bill 168, An Act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace. The Bill, which will place heavier obligations on employers to prevent and manage workplace violence and harassment, has already been given second reading in the Legislature, and will likely become law sometime next year.
The new law defines "workplace harassment" and "workplace violence" in the following manner:
"Workplace harassment" means engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.
"Workplace violence" means:
a. the exercise of physical force by a person against a worker in a workplace that causes or could cause physical injury to the worker,
b. an attempt to exercise physical force against a worker in a workplace that could cause physical injury to the worker.
This type of legislative initiative should be welcomed. Many employees live with the often horrific reality that the workplace can be a war zone from which there is no shelter.
Researchers Charlotte Rayner, Helge Hoel and Cary L. Cooper have contributed to our understanding of what may constitute workplace bullying.
In their book, Workplace Bullying: What We Know, Who is to Blame, and What We Can Do, they suggest that bullying may include:
- Threat to professional status (e.g., damaging the person's reputation, humiliating the person in public or accusing him or her of lack of effort).
- Threat to personal standing (e.g., calling the person names; insulting, teasing or intimidating him or her; or devaluing the person based on age).
- Isolation (e.g., preventing access to opportunities, deliberately withholding important information or isolating the person physically or socially).
- Overwork (e.g., imposing undue pressure to produce work, setting impossible deadlines or making consistent and unnecessary disruptions).
- Destabilization (e.g., failing to give credit where it is due, assigning meaningless tasks, removing responsibility or setting the person up for failure).
The Ontario Superior Court's December 2009 ruling in Piresferreira v. Ayotte and Bell Mobility Inc.,  O.J. No. 518, provides a dramatic example of the civil remedies available in Ontario in extreme cases of harassment and bullying.
- Stephen Ellis, Toronto
Stephen Ellis is a Toronto lawyer practicing in association with Wise Law Office, Toronto