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Written by: Cindy Lynn Roche, CPHR
Update: May 2018
New OHS regulations take effect June 1, 2018. These updates specifically focus on creating healthier, safer workplaces in Alberta, and address bullying and harassment. The Government of Alberta sought input from a broad range of stakeholders, including CPHR Alberta, in creating this updated legislation. News on these updates can be found at https://www.alberta.ca/ohs-changes.aspx
The manager began her relationship with the team by telling them that her style was different from her predecessor and if they didn’t like it they could leave. Within six months, she had PIPs in place for half the team and she had fired more people than had left for any reason in the previous 5 years. She badmouthed the client in meetings with staff and blamed staff in meetings with clients. She criticized individuals in team meetings (occasionally swearing and name-calling) and was proud of her ‘leadership style’ when sharing the rumour that everyone was afraid for their job. The team of 100 in 3 locations experienced more than 75% turnover before she was finally dismissed.
The crew was tight. They had worked together for several years and enjoyed a camaraderie on the drilling sites they were assigned to, often roughhousing and roasting one another. The owner’s decision to purchase heavy equipment and bring in his own operators rather than contracting the services would improve efficiency and reduce costs; the addition of specialized skill sets meant bringing in new people to the team. When the first crane operator said he had never seen anything like the environment he was working in, the owner told him that the crew were really good guys and probably just needed time to adjust to the change – he quit after two weeks with no change. The next operator had a little more self-confidence and barked back when he was snapped at, but he mentioned a series of rude, sneaky and dangerous behaviours to the owner because it was the most unprofessional environment he had ever encountered, the owner said he had heard the operator had gotten aggressive and maybe wasn’t trying hard enough to fit in. He needs the job and will leave as soon as he has another option, but until then hopes today isn’t the day he’s fired (because he’s sure it’s coming as soon as they don’t need him).
In both cases above, the leaders created a toxic environment that rewarded poor behaviour and punished performers who raised concerns (largely because the concerns were heard as criticism). In my experience, poor leadership is often at fault in cultures where bullying festers and too often it is the person who is targeted in that type of environment who leaves because it becomes exhausting to survive constant subtle and not-so-subtle attacks. However even in healthy organizations with great leadership, bullying can occur and it is just as discouraging, devastating and frustrating to someone who is targeted.
There is currently no specific anti-bullying legislation in Alberta. There can be recourse for individuals who are bullied through OH&S or Human Rights complaints, but those routes are limited by a specific set of grievances and proving a hostile environment is can be both stressful and expensive. Until there is legislation, and even after it exists, organizations with anti-bullying policies can protect themselves and their employees.
Having policies in place allows organizations to identify what is and is not acceptable behaviour in the workplace, whether that’s an anti-bullying or simply a respectful workplace policy, helps make the workplace safer by specifying what will be tolerated and how transgressions will be handled. When people are informed, they will be more conscious of their actions and, in the event that they become a bully’s target, a policy gives them safe options for reporting.
In 2016 an anti-bullying in the workplace petition was presented to the Government of Alberta. The government recognizes the insidious and destructive nature of bullying and debate continues about whether specific legislation is necessary. In the meantime, to help people who are being bullied and workplaces deciding how to manage bullies, the government has posted a number of resources on their webpage (see list below which includes tip sheets, health & safety information, and recommendations).
On November 9, 2016, Private Members Bill 208 was introduced by Craig Coolahan, MLA Calgary Klien. The Bill entitled Occupational Health and Safety (Protection From Workplace Harassment) Amendment Act, 2016, seeks to ensure harassment policies are mandatory in all Alberta workplaces and provide victims of workplace harassment an avenue to lodge a complaint with Occupational Health and Safety.
Government of Alberta Bullying in the Workplace Resources: