(Canadian OH&S News) — Alberta employers may have a tougher time getting away with bullying and harassment from now on, as the provincial legislature has just proposed a law that would make harassment policies mandatory for workplaces.
Craig Coolahan, the MLA for Calgary-Klein, tabled a private member’s bill in the legislature in Edmonton on Nov. 9. The Occupational Health and Safety (Protection from Workplace Harassment) Amendment Act, 2016 passed its first reading and is moving on to its second.
“Currently, there is no legislation that recognizes bullying or psychological harassment in the workplace,” Coolahan wrote in an op-ed column submitted to various media outlets, including COHSN. “We can do better. Albertans deserve a workplace that is safe from both physical harm and the psychological and emotional damage that workplace harassment inflicts.”
If the bill passes, every Alberta employer will have to establish a workplace harassment policy and investigate all harassment complaints. If an employee is not satisfied with the resolution of a complaint, he or she will be able to file another complaint with a government occupational health and safety officer, who may mediate a resolution if the matter appears to have merit. An unsuccessful mediation could potentially result in “corrective action” against the accused perpetrator.
“In consultations with Alberta businesses of all sizes, individual victims, labour organizations and pertinent non-profit and professional organizations,” wrote Coolahan, “there is clear support for providing all Albertans with a safe, harassment-free work environment.”
One of the bill’s vocal supporters is Linda Crockett, a social worker and the founder and executive director of the Alberta Bullying Research, Resources & Recovery Centre in Edmonton.
“I am extremely excited to see this happen. I thought we were going to be waiting a few years before we saw it,” said Crockett. “All those people out there that are suffering, either just beginning that process or suffering in isolation, I see hope for them now.”
Coolahan cited a recent study revealing that 60 per cent of Alberta workers had experienced workplace harassment, while half of the victims of bullying or harassment would not report it. Of the ones who had sought help from their employers’ human-resources departments, 62 per cent said that the companies had taken no action.
If Coolahan’s bill becomes law, “employers are going to be accountable,” said Crockett. “If there is a policy that exists, they’re going to update it; they’re going to make it current. If there isn’t a policy, they’re going to be held accountable to create a policy. And then they’re going to be accountable to follow through on it.”
Only about 70 per cent of Alberta workplaces have harassment policies in place, according to recent information from the Human Resources Institute of Alberta. The policies that do exist are inconsistent, tending to vary from employer to employer.
Crockett explained that workplace bullying is usually an insidious type of psychological abuse that happens behind closed doors. “The tactics are quite subtle, passive-aggressive,” she said. So many perpetrators never face any consequences for their behaviour; indeed, many get promoted or transferred to other locations where they continue to bully employees.
“The process doesn’t work,” said Crockett. “There’s a breakdown in the system of complaint and policy.”
She added that Alberta also needed more education and training on workplace harassment by “qualified anti-bullying specialists,” as well as resources both for victims and for those who act out.
“Most people in the workplace don’t realize that they are being bullied until at least a year after, or until they become quite ill, and that’s when they finally reach out for help,” she said.
Coolahan clarified that the bill was intended to be preventative rather than punitive. “It’s about protecting all Albertans. It’s about ensuring that all employers and employees are familiar with what harassment is and what it is not, through the use of a robust harassment policy and training,” he said.
“I’m thrilled to be able to listen to Albertans and support them with this important legislation.”