Talking about bullying and harassment at work

A presentation from WorkSafeBC safety officers about bullying and harassment can be a positive way to start conversations in your workplace. 

Photo of a person sitting at a desk, looking down, hands covering their face.

Photo credit: Vesalainen

Kira Berntson, a prevention field services manager at WorkSafeBC, is one of the team members who gives presentations about bullying and harassment to individual employers, employer associations, and groups of employers and workers.

I asked Kira what kinds of bullying and harassment she has seen in workplaces. She says she’s seen all kinds of situations. For example, she worked with a facility to address a problem with co-worker gossip. She has advised on conflicts that arose from differing communication styles at work. And sometimes she presents to groups that don’t have a known situation of bullying or harassment, but they want to initiate discussion on the topic.

Bullying and harassment can take many forms. WorkSafeBC defines bullying and harassment as any action that would cause a worker to be humiliated or intimidated. Examples of this include:

  • Verbal aggression or insults
  • Calling someone derogatory names
  • Harmful hazing or initiation practices
  • Vandalizing personal belongings
  • Spreading malicious rumours

Bullying and harassment affects safety

Kira says that bullying and harassment can pose safety risks in the workplace. “For instance, on a construction site, if you’re anxiously looking out for the next experience of bullying or harassment, you might not see an overhead hazard or you might not be as cautious with your nail gun.”

She says a recent study found that a worker’s performance can be reduced by an average of 25 percent after being bullied or witnessing bullying. “When workers are under stress, their cognitive processing is reduced. That affects their employer’s safety bottom line.”

Bullying and harassment can also impact blood pressure and GI (gastrointestinal) health, and can contribute to sleep disorders, anxiety, depression and PTSD. It can even lead to self-harm.

Employer obligations around bullying and harassment

Employers have legal duties around bullying and harassment, including implementing procedures for responding to reports or incidents of bullying and harassment. They’re also responsible for ensuring those procedures are followed.

See for more information about responding to bullying and harassment. There’s also a bullying and harassment resource tool kit available that includes procedure templates for employers, handouts with frequently asked questions, and posters to put up in your workplace.

Request a presentation

Presentations are free, and you can request them by calling the Prevention Information Line at 1-888-621-7233. “Please call, because we’re happy to do it,” says Kira.

Thank you to Kira for talking with me.

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