As media scrutiny over schoolyard and cyberbullying pervade the news, allegations of workplace harassment and bullying are on the rise. Media reports reveal the deleterious and even deadly impact that bullying can have on children in our communities. Unfortunately for employers, adults in our workplaces sometimes engage in similar transgressions. While the popularization of the terms “bullying” and “harassment” has both educated and empowered employees to assert the right to a respectful workplace, it has conversely sometimes resulted in overuse of the terms and meritless complaints in relation to reasonable management measures. Employers are left with the difficult task of managing all competing interests to ensure a safe, respectful and productive work environment.
One Canadian professor previously estimated that a whopping 40% of Canadians experienced one or more acts of workplace bullying at least once a week.(1) Although it is difficult to determine exactly how much harassment and bullying actually occurs in Canadian workplaces, we can be certain of the impact of such conduct. Workplace bullying and harassment create a toxic work environment resulting in many negative effects which may include: decreasing productivity, increasing employees’ use of sick days, damaging employee morale and causing attrition of good employees. It can also result in significant legal liabilities. Considering all of these potential impacts, the tangible and intangible costs of workplace harassment and bullying can be high. This should be reason enough to motivate employers to expeditiously address such issues; however, for those not motivated by practical business measures or healthy employee relations, we should also consider the expansion of Canadian laws to protect workers from harassment and bullying, and the significant liabilities that can arise when such issues are not properly addressed.