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Why all the fuss about workplace bullying?


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In 1988 a man applied for Worker’s Compensation due to the stress of being teased, at work, about his appearance. His claim was denied. Almost 20 years later another man made a similar claim, a claim that was allowed; Worker’s comp paid up. Change was on the horizon.

In 1999 a man walked into his former place of employment in Ottawa and shot to death 4 coworkers, seriously injuring a fifth person.  He then killed himself. The killer had been teased by his coworkers because he spoke with a stutter.

A young woman was forced to quit her job as a senior claims adjudicator in 2000. A relative of her employer with whom she worked constantly harassed her, wrongly accused her of sabotaging company equipment and aggressively confronted her on several occasions. The woman successfully sued her former employer for constructive dismissal and was awarded damages for lost wages and for mental distress.

In 2009 the Ontario government passed new legislation requiring employers to proactively address the serious issue of harassment and violence in the workplace.

Bullying is finally against the law in Canada and that is what all the fuss is about. In the harassment case involving the young woman, above, the employee reported the bullying to her employer and the employer told her to avoid the bully. The bully was not disciplined. The new law finally requires employers to create a mechanism for employees to report bullying behaviour. Employees are also entitled under the new law to know how the employer will investigate allegations of workplace bullying.

Attend my presentation: “Protecting Your Organization from the Workplace Bully” HRPA 2010 Annual Conference & Trade Show, January 27, 2010, 3:00 p.m.  Also . . . visit me at booth 143 in the Trade Show

By Andrew Lawson, Human Rights Advisor, Learn Don’t Litigate

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Andrew Lawson

Trainer and advisor at Learn Don't Litigate
Andrew Lawson is a human rights and health and safety trainer and advisor, currently consulting to both the federal and Ontario governments. Since 1996, he has conducted extensive legal research in the areas of human rights and occupational health and safety law. He has worked in the people management business for over 25 years. Read more
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3 thoughts on “Why all the fuss about workplace bullying?
  • Great question. The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act defines a “worker” as someone who receives monetary compensation so a volunteer, strictly speaking, is not covered under this law. However volunteers may be protected by other legislation such as the Human Rights Code. The employer may also have common law obligations regarding the protection of anyone entering the workplace, including volunteers. The issue of coverage for volunteers is an important one. Please watch for future posts by me, and my colleagues, on this important topic.

  • Yosie says:

    You would have to look at each piece of health and safety legislation in each jurisdiction in Canada, namely occupational health and safety laws, and workers compensation laws.

    For example, in Ontario, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, a worker is defined as “a person who performs work or supplies services for monetary compensation.” This definition does not include volunteers. However, employers still have OHS responsibilities for the health and safety of people visiting or helping out in their workplaces.

    In addtion, under the Workplace Safety & Insurance Act (WSIB), volunteers in most workplaces are not covered, however, some types of volunteers are covered such as volunteer firefighters.

    Hope this helps!

  • Susan Trevers says:

    When a person is not paid for the work but volunteers his time to a non-profit organization, is this organization considered his employer for the purpose of Workplace Health and Safety laws?