Bullying and Harassment in Alberta: Everything Employers Need to Know

  • Workplace Bullying & Harassment
Bullying and Harassment in Alberta: Everything Employers Need to Know
Kiljon Shukullari

Kiljon Shukullari, HR Advisory Manager

(Last updated )

Bullying and harassment in the workplace can have serious consequences for both employees and employers. In Alberta, workplace bullying and harassment are not only morally wrong, but they are also illegal. As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that your employees are working in a safe and respectful environment.

The Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and other protected characteristics. This includes harassment in the workplace. The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act also defines workplace harassment and sets out requirements for employers to prevent and address it.

Employers in Alberta have a legal obligation to provide a safe and respectful workplace for their employees. This means taking proactive steps to prevent workplace bullying and harassment, as well as responding promptly and effectively to any incidents that occur. Failure to comply with these legal requirements can result in significant financial and legal consequences, as well as damage to an employer’s reputation.

Bullying and harassment can also have a negative impact on employee morale, productivity, and retention. Employees who are bullied or harassed are more likely to experience stress, anxiety, and depression, and may require time off work or leave the organization altogether.

Employers in Alberta must take a proactive approach to prevent workplace bullying and harassment by developing policies and procedures, providing training to employees, and creating a culture of respect and accountability. They must also respond promptly and effectively to any incidents that do occur, taking appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrators and providing support to the victims. Here is everything you need to know about preventing workplace bullying and harassment in Alberta.

What is workplace bullying and harassment?

Workplace bullying and harassment can take many forms, including physical, verbal, psychological, and sexual. It is any behaviour that makes an employee feel intimidated, threatened, or humiliated. Bullying and harassment can be carried out by a co-worker, supervisor, or manager, and it can occur in any type of workplace.

In Alberta, the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act defines workplace harassment as any objectionable behaviour that intimidates, humiliates, or offends a person, or that creates a hostile or unsafe work environment. This includes behaviour that is discriminatory, such as harassment based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.

As an employer, you have a duty to ensure that your employees are working in a safe and respectful environment, free from bullying and harassment. This includes taking proactive steps to prevent workplace bullying and harassment, as well as responding promptly and effectively to any complaints or incidents that do occur.

What constitutes harassment in Alberta?

Under Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, workplace harassment is defined as a “single or repeated incident of objectionable or unwelcome conduct, comment, bullying or action intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group”.

Just as important as it is to be aware of what constitutes harassment, employers should be aware of what does not.

Examples of harassment and bullying in the workplace can vary depending on the context and the individuals involved, but some common examples include:

Verbal abuse

Using derogatory language, insults, or threats towards a co-worker.

Physical intimidation

Engaging in threatening behaviour or physical contact that makes an individual feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

Discrimination

Treating someone unfairly based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, or any other characteristic protected under human rights legislation.

Social exclusion

Deliberately leaving someone out of meetings, events, or conversations, or spreading rumours or gossip about them.

Sexual harassment

Making unwanted sexual advances or comments or engaging in inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature.

What constitutes sexual harassment in Alberta?

According to the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC), acts of sexual harassment include:

  • Suggestive remarks, sexual jokes or compromising invitations; verbal abuse;
  • Visual display of suggestive sexual images;
  • Leering or whistling;
  • Patting, rubbing or other unwanted physical contact;
  • Outright demands for sexual favours; and physical assault.

In Alberta, it is the employer's responsibility to take all reasonable precautions to create a work environment free from sexual harassment for all employees and customers.

According to the AHRC, employers are legally responsible for the actions of their employees in cases of proven sexual harassment.

What is not considered harassment in Alberta?

Under the law, harassment does not include any reasonable conduct of an employer or supervisor related to the normal management of workers on a work site. While steps should always be taken to resolve differences where possible to create a harmonious working environment, opposing opinions or minor disagreements are also not considered workplace harassment.

Examples of behaviours that are not considered harassment or bullying may include:

Constructive criticism

Providing feedback or constructive criticism in a respectful and professional manner.

Performance management

Addressing performance issues through established processes, such as coaching or performance improvement plans.

Workplace banter

Engaging in light-hearted joking or teasing between colleagues that is mutually accepted and does not cause harm.

Reasonable work demands

Expecting employees to meet reasonable work expectations and deadlines in a respectful manner.

Professional disagreement

Engaging in respectful debate or discussion on professional matters, without resorting to personal attacks or harassment.

It’s important to note that what may be considered acceptable behaviour in one workplace or culture may not be acceptable in another. It’s always important to err on the side of caution and to treat all colleagues with respect and professionalism. If in doubt, seeking guidance from HR or management can help clarify what behaviours are appropriate in your workplace.

How to Prevent Workplace Bullying and Harassment

The best way to address workplace bullying and harassment is to prevent it from happening in the first place. As an employer, you can take several steps to create a safe and respectful workplace:

Develop a workplace harassment policy

Develop a clear and concise policy that outlines your organization’s stance on workplace harassment. This policy should define what constitutes workplace harassment, the consequences of engaging in such behavior, and the procedures for reporting incidents of harassment.

Provide training

Provide regular training to all employees, supervisors, and managers on workplace harassment. This training should cover what constitutes harassment, how to recognize it, and the steps to take if an employee experiences harassment.

Encourage reporting

Encourage employees to report any incidents of harassment, and make it clear that they will not face retaliation for doing so. Provide multiple channels for reporting, such as an anonymous hotline, an email address, or a designated individual within the organization.

What is required by law in Alberta to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace?

Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act defines harassment and violence, including domestic and sexual violence, as workplace hazards. Employers are required to help prevent workplace harassment and violence and address incidents when they occur. There are several steps employers must take to comply with these health and safety obligations and eliminate harassment in the workplace in Alberta.

Hazard Assessments

Employers are required to conduct hazard assessments, which are meant to identify situations that could put workers at risk of harassment or violence in the workplace. Hazard assessments should be conducted with the following frequency:

  • at reasonably practicable intervals to prevent the development of unsafe and unhealthy working conditions;
  • when a new work process is introduced;
  • when a work process or operation changes; or
  • before the construction of significant additions or alterations to a work site.

Hazard assessments must involve the joint worksite health and safety committee or health and safety representative if there is one.

Prevention Plans

Employers must have separate prevention plans for violence and harassment in the workplace. By having workplace violence and harassment policies in place, employers will be able to set overall expectations that harassment and violence are not tolerated in the work environment, and outline the processes required to make the policy work on a day-to-day basis. Prevention plans must be in writing, in paper or electronic formats, and be readily available for reference to workers at the work site. They must be reviewed at least once every 3 years.

Employee Training

Workers also play a role in preventing and responding to workplace violence and harassment. Employers must instruct their employees on the hazards of workplace harassment and violence, how to recognize warning signs, how to respond, and how to report it.

Reporting Harassment

When violence or harassment in the workplace does occur, employers are required to investigate and address the incident. They must take action to prevent this from reoccurring and prepare a report detailing the investigation and the corrective action taken. This report must be kept for a minimum of 2 years from the date of the incident, in case it is requested by an Alberta OHS officer.

Worker Support

Finally, employers must provide support to employees who have experienced workplace harassment or violence. The affected worker should be advised to visit a health professional or seek help through an employee assistance program. If they seek treatment during work hours, the employer may not deduct pay from the employee.

How to Respond to Workplace Bullying and Harassment

Despite your best efforts to prevent workplace bullying and harassment, incidents may still occur. When they do, it is important to respond promptly and effectively to ensure that the affected employee feels supported and that the behaviour is addressed appropriately.

Investigate

Conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the incident to determine what happened and who was involved. This investigation should be carried out by a trained individual who is not directly involved in the incident. You may also consider hiring a third-party investigator to conduct the investigation.

Take action

If the investigation confirms that harassment occurred, take appropriate action against the harasser, which could include disciplinary action, termination, or legal action. Additionally, take steps to support the victim, such as offering counselling services or time off work.

Communicate

Communicate the results of the investigation and the actions taken to all parties involved. It is important to maintain confidentiality while also being transparent about the outcome of the investigation.

Adjust Workplace Policy

In the event there was an issue of harassment, you may want to address the workplace culture or workplace dynamic to prevent further incidents. This can include communicating to all staff the importance of a harassment free environment, introducing equality and diversity training programs, or allowing staff to voice any concerns they have in the workplace.

Do you need help drafting a policy that prevents workplace bullying and harassment?

Employers in Alberta have a legal and ethical obligation to create a safe and respectful workplace for their employees, and failure to do so can result in significant consequences. By taking proactive steps to prevent and address workplace bullying and harassment, you can create a positive workplace culture that benefits everyone.

Workplace bullying and harassment can have serious consequences for both employees and employers. As an employer in Alberta, it is your responsibility to ensure that your employees are working in a safe and respectful environment, free from harassment and bullying. Part of this response involves creating a workplace harassment policy.

If you need assistance creating a policy that combats workplace harassment and bullying, contact Peninsula for help. We help employers comply with provincial legislation and advise them on how to apply this to their workplace. Contact us today at 1 (833) 247-3652

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