Workplace Bullying

Bullying refers to repetitive behaviour intended to mentally, physically or emotionally harm or isolate a person and involves a real or perceived imbalance of power. It can look different from situation to situation and range from comments, gossip and intimidation to unwanted touching and assault.

40% of Canadian workers experience bullying on a weekly basis1

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, bullying can be difficult to recognize in the workplace and there’s a “fine line” between bullying and strong management. Constructive feedback, differences of opinion and regular management/employee duties are not considered bullying. 

Here are just a few examples of what is considered workplace bullying: 

  • spreading gossip or innuendo
  • excluding or isolating someone socially.
  • undermining or impeding a person’s work
  • threats of abuse or intimidation
  • offensive ‘jokes’ out loud or via email
  • physical abuse 
  • set up for failure by establishing impossible deadlines or unreasonable workload
  • withholding information or providing incorrect information
  • underwork, creating a feeling of uselessness either by removing responsibilities without cause or excluding a person from projects. 
  • blocking advancement or growth.
  • belittling opinions or persistently criticizing.
  • unwarranted (or undeserved) punishment.
  • attempting to ‘oust’ a person from their position in a company.
  • tampering with a person's personal belongings or work equipment.

The suggests using the "reasonable peson" test when deciding whether or not an action is considered bullying. Ask yourself "would a reasonable person consider this to be appropriate or acceptable?"


How Does Bullying Affect An Employee

When a person is bullied in the workplace, they may react in shock or anger. They often begin feeling frustrated or helpless, lose confidence and feel vulnerable. They may also start to withdraw from social activities and begin to experience anxiety - especially about going to work. Bullying in the workplace can cause tension and stress at home with a person's family and manifest physically as well through stomach pains, headaches and an inability to sleep or eat. 

In the workplace, bullying can affect morale, motivation and productivity as well as result in an increase in absenteeism or turnover. 


Does the Law Protect Against Bullying in the Workplace

There are several laws relating to harassment and rules outlining an employer's responsibility to protect employees from mental and physical risks at work. 

In addition, federal and provincial human right laws prohibit harassment related to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status, family status, disability, pardoned conviction, or sexual orientation. In certain situations, these laws may apply to bullying.


1 Lee R.T., and Brotheridge C.M. “When prey turns predatory: Workplace bullying as predictor of counteragression / bullying, coping, and well-being”. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. 2006, 00 (0): 1-26