Combating psychological harassment in the workplace

Employers and employees must now have a clear policy on prevention

New changes are now in effect to protect employees from psychological harassment in Manitoba workplaces.

The Workplace, Safety and Health Regulation was recently amended after the Advisory Council on Workplace Safety and Health, made up of employee and labour representatives, reviewed a study showing that close to 40 per cent of employees in Manitoba have experienced harassment or bullying.

“The changes are needed,” said Hon. Jennifer Howard, Manitoba’s minister of labour and immigration. “This is something that is in place and works in other provinces. We looked over Saskatchewan’s model and are using that as a guideline.”

The updated regulation includes details requiring workplaces to have a harassment prevention policy that explains how to make a formal complaint, how it will be investigated and how both the accuser and the accused will be informed of the grievance.

Employers are now also required to post a copy of the policy where it can be viewed by all staff.

Businesses will have until Feb. 1, 2011 to become familiar with the new regulations and discuss harassment policy with their employees.

“Ultimately we want everyone to have a respectful environment, to feel safe at work,” Howard said. “We also want to be really clear (about) what psychological harassment is.”

Sheyanne Bruyere, a downtown restaurant employee, understands first-hand what the term means.

After a table she was serving walked out, she had to pay the over $100 bill out of her own pocket.

“I never had a walk-out before so I didn’t know,” she said, not wanting to name the restaurant as she is still employed there. “I paid for it because the supervisor told me I had to.”

A few days later, Bruyere attempted to confront the manager to regain her losses. During this conversation her manager belittled her and said things like, “Why should I have you working here if you are not going to follow directions?”

“I thought I was going to get fired ... because he made me feel like a bad employee,” she said. “I know I am a good employee, it was the first mistake I ever made.”

According to Wendy Josephson, psychology professor at the University of Winnipeg, instances like Bruyere’s are clear cases of psychological harassment.

“(Being) repeatedly mistreated, intimidated or humiliated by someone at work who seemingly had more power than you ... meets the definition that most people use as bullying,” she said.

Josephson said that in the workplace it is more common for harassment to be directed at how well a person does their job, rather than attacks on personal attributes.

She also noted that the harassment will usually continue until either the harasser or the victim leaves the workplace – and more often than not, it is the victim who leaves.

“A lot of people don’t know it’s their right to be protected from harassment,” she said, hoping that the changes to the regulations will change that.

“One of the things that is becoming clear is that anyone could be (psychologically harassed). One thing that makes you more vulnerable is if you’re ‘new’,” Josephson said.

Published in Volume 65, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 4, 2010)

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