Workplace Harassment and Bullying

The following information has been adopted from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario websites.

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What is workplace bullying?

Bullying is a form of harassment and a form of violence in the workplace. Bullying or harassment can be based on the grounds set out in the Human Rights Code, or it can be a form of psychological or personal harassment apart from the Human Rights Code. Often, bullying and harassment are manifestations of abuse of power.

It is objectionable conduct or comment directed towards a specific person, which serves no legitimate work purpose, and creates an intimidating, humiliating, hostile or offensive work environment.

Definitions of Harassment

While bullying is a form of aggression, the actions can be both obvious and subtle. It is important to note that the following is not a checklist, nor does it mention all forms of bullying. This list is included as a way of showing some of the ways bullying may happen in a workplace. Also remember that bullying is usually considered to be a pattern of behaviour where one or more incidents will help show that bullying is taking place.

Examples include:

  • Spreading malicious rumours, gossip, or innuendo that is not true.
  • Excluding or isolating someone socially.
  • Intimidating a person.
  • Undermining or deliberately impeding a person’s work.
  • Physically abusing or threatening abuse.
  • Removing areas of responsibilities without cause.
  • Constantly changing work guidelines.
  • Establishing impossible deadlines that will set up the individual to fail.
  • Withholding necessary information or purposefully giving the wrong information.
  • Making jokes that are ‘obviously offensive’ by spoken word or e-mail.
  • Intruding on a person’s privacy by pestering, spying or stalking.
  • Assigning unreasonable duties or workload which are unfavourable to one person (in a way that creates unnecessary pressure).
  • Underwork – creating a feeling of uselessness.
  • Yelling or using profanity.
  • Criticising a person persistently or constantly.
  • Belittling a person’s opinions.
  • Unwarranted (or undeserved) punishment.
  • Blocking applications for training, leave or promotion.
  • Tampering with a person’s personal belongings or work equipment.

If you are not sure an action or statement could be considered bullying, you can use the “reasonable person” test. Would most people consider the action unacceptable?

Schools are workplaces, governed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Under that legislation, administrators must take every reasonable precaution in the circumstances to protect all workers, including teachers, in the school setting.

Recent studies have shown that teachers are subjected to a vast range of abusive treatment from students, including verbal assaults, physical assaults and threats, and damage to their property.

Teachers may also be harassed by parents, colleagues, or by managers. This type of harassment may consist of:

  • verbal abuse, threats, belittling or humiliating;
  • physical gestures that intimidate or threaten;
  • ostracism, isolation;
  • inequitable and harsh treatment;
  • excessive monitoring;
  • denial of opportunities;
  • yelling, swearing, public reprimands; and
  • other objectionable behaviour designed to torment, pester, or abuse someone.

Teachers have a right to protection from violence in their workplace. They are not required to tolerate behaviour which threatens their safety and well-being. Reasonable measures must be established to achieve this goal. Harassment is not the normal, reasonable exercise of managerial authority.

What to Do If You Are Being Harassed

Respectful communications are key to all workplace interactions. If you are being harassed:

  • If you are able to do so, ask the harasser to stop.
  • Document the incidences.
  • Seek assistance early.
  • Speak to a Local 350 steward or Local 350 Executive member  (www.local350.wordpress.com/what-we-do/whos-who/)
  • Contact staff in Human Resources.
  • Seek some assistance to invoke an informal mechanism for addressing the situation; ask about a grievance under your collective agreement.

Remember, it is not just the character of the incidents, but the number, frequency, and especially the pattern that can reveal the bullying or harassment.

How can bullying affect and individual?

People who are the targets of bullying may experience a range of effects. These reactions include:

  • Shock.
  • Anger.
  • Feelings of frustration and/or helplessness.
  • Increased sense of vulnerability.
  • Loss of confidence.
  • Physical symptoms such as:
    • Inability to sleep.
    • Loss of appetite.
  • Psychosomatic symptoms such as:
    • Stomach pains.
    • Headaches.
  • Panic or anxiety, especially about going to work.
  • Family tension and stress.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Low morale and productivity.

How can bullying affect a workplace?

Bullying affects the overall “health” of an organization. An “unhealthy” workplace can have many effects. In general these include:

  • Increased absenteeism.
  • Increased turnover.
  • Increased stress.
  • Increased costs for employee assistance programs (EAPs), recruitment, etc.
  • Increased risk for accidents / incidents.
  • Decreased productivity and motivation.
  • Decreased morale.
  • Reduced corporate image and customer confidence.
  • Poor student service.

Local 350 is here to listen and help in difficult situations. One on one meetings are confidential and all concerns are taken seriously.

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