Workplace Harassment and Bullying

The Different Types of Workplace Harassment

Over time, workplaces have experienced an increase in the number of complaints of personal harassment or bullying in the workplace.

There are two different categories of harassment.  The first, which is often used interchangeably with the term “bullying”, is personal harassment that is directed at a particular employee or group of employees by other employees or supervisors and includes the following:

  • any conduct which, to a reasonable person would be, or ought reasonably known to be, unwelcome, offensive or intimidating; and
  • includes objectionable or derogatory comments or conduct that demean, belittle or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment

Personal harassment or bullying in the workplace can include jokes, insults, threats, cartoons, innuendoes, or a concerted refusal to talk to or work with, assist or train a particular employee.

The second type of workplace harassment is indirect. This involves conduct that is not directed at a particular individual but results in an overall poisoned atmosphere. This can include:

  • demeaning nick-names, sexist or racist remarks, stories or emails, unwelcome jokes and cartoons, nude pictures, displaying of racist or bigoted pictures or materials; and
  • exclusive behavior and social isolation of one employee by others; and
  • any other pattern of unwelcome conduct that creates an uncomfortable or hostile work environment for one or more employees.

Indirect harassment also includes conduct/remarks or malicious gossip about an employee that are not directed at him or her at the time.  If the employee becomes aware of demeaning remarks or gossip and is adversely affected as a result, then such indirect comments may constitute workplace harassment.

Addressing Workplace Harassment/Bullying

Managers and supervisors are expected to monitor the workplace for signs of potential harassment or bullying and intervene in a timely and responsive manner. This requires effective training by a qualified workplace consultant.

WorkSafe BC, the Human Rights Tribunal, arbitrators and judges are increasingly awarding monetary damages and other formal remedies against management to address workplace harassment and bullying that has been left unresolved.

What Is Not Harassment/Bullying?

Workplace harassment and/or bullying does not include acceptable social banter and humour in the workplace.  It also does not include management decisions, such as discipline, performance or attendance management that are made in good faith and implemented in a reasonable manner.

Often, employees file personal harassment complaints because they feel "bad" about a workplace argument with a coworker or become upset following criticism by a supervisor.  However, not all unpleasant communication or workplace conflict constitutes personal harassment. 

In order to accurately determine whether personal harassment/bullying exists, a full and fair investigation must be conducted by an individual with the necessary substantive and procedural expertise in this area.

Some Final Thoughts:  Did you Know …

  • Workplace Harassment can occur on or off-site and can take place at off-duty social functions;
  • Workplace Harassment can involve misconduct or inappropriate statements by clients, patients, customers, members of the public and contractors;
  • Employees or managers who retaliate against employees who file personal harassment/bullying complaints can be the subject of a separate complaint based solely on the indirect or direct retaliation; and
  • Employees who intentionally and/or repeatedly file personal harassment/bullying complaints against coworkers or supervisors for an improper motive or purpose may find themselves facing discipline for filing a malicious/vexatious complaint.


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Marli Rusen
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Victoria, BC  V8W 0B6


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