Advocates say Alberta companies need to get ready for workplace bullying legislation
Bill 30 requires workers to refrain from bullying or harassing anyone in the workplace, and puts a responsibility on employers to prevent violence and harassment
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Legislation coming into effect this summer will require organizations to have processes in place to manage allegations of harassment and bullying on the job, but advocates are concerned Alberta workplaces won’t be prepared.
Bill 30, An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans, makes amendments to the Occupational Health And Safety Act – including legally requiring workers to not bully or harass anyone in the workplace.
It also puts the responsibility on employers to prevent violence and harassment at work.
Starting June 1, employers will be responsible for health, safety and welfare of their workers and the public, but also providing “competent supervisors,” training, and prevention regarding violence and harassment.
“Everybody wants to be able to go to work, and have a safe environment, and be respected,” said Marlene Hope, who retired from her decades-long career as a Calgary Police Service detective in 2015 because of what she calls the 'toxic culture’ within the force.
“Conflict is normal – it’s the company's way of handling it, that’s where the difference lies," she said. "Sometimes it is so egregious that you do have to fire the person, but often it’s about going back to training and coaching."
Hope now works as an advocate and independent workplace bullying and harassment investigator and is part of the Calgary Consortium for Civility, Respect and Dignity at Work, along with Pat Ferris – a coach, trainer, and counsellor in the area of managing workplace harassment and bullying for more than 20 years – and Michelle Phaneuf, the Alberta co-director for the Canada-wide Workplace Fairness Insititute.
Ferris explained conflict becomes bullying or harassment when attacks become personal, or when a person can’t withdraw from it.
“I’ve seen how it strips people of their dignity,” Ferris told Metro. “(Bill 30) puts the onus on the company to do a whole series of actions – starting with prevention and going all the way to investigation – to manage (bullying and harassment).”
But legislation isn't enough, according to Ferris, who said every employer needs to have resources and processes in place to handle the complex and messy situations that will, inevitably, arise.
“A complaint process is incredibly difficult and stressful for everybody – the bystanders, the person accused – the more resources you can provide for people to come out of this in a healthy, respectful way, the better end result you’re going to have,” Ferris said.
Phaneuf said she has witnessed fallout from bullying and harassment in the workplace from both sides, and believes companies need to make discussions about respect and safety a normal part of their culture.
“An important piece a lot of organizations are missing is to be able to facilitate these conversations for their employees in a safe, respectful way where they can explore the issue and talk about it,” Phaneuf said.
“As well as helping employees understand what the policies and procedures are, what the expectations are – what respect looks like at that workplace.”
All three agreed there will likely be a flood of allegations brought forward after the new rules come into place.
“If the current press is any indication – with all these people coming forward in the media (with allegations of bullying and harassment) – there is a pent up need,” Ferris said – but emphasized companies should see that as a positive step towards healthier, more respectful workplaces.
“It means people are feeling safe coming forward,” Ferris said.