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Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

Bullying is usually seen as acts or verbal comments that could psychologically hurt or isolate a person in the workplace. Sometimes, bullying can involve negative physical contact as well.  Bullying usually involves repeated incidents or a pattern of behaviour that is intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group of people.  It has also been described as the assertion of power through aggression.

Workplace bullying is a serious occupational health and safety issue with far-reaching social and economic consequences. In the face of rising incidents of bullying in the workplace between management and worker, as well as co-worker to co-worker, Unifor is committed to the ideal that every worker is entitled to work in a safe, healthy and respectful workplace that is free of intimidation or 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.
  • 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?

Many studies acknowledge that there is a "fine line" between strong management and bullying. Comments that are objective and are intended to provide constructive feedback are not usually considered bullying, but rather are intended to assist the employee with their work.

Bullying and harassing behaviour does not include:

  • Expressing differences of opinion.
  • Offering constructive feedback, guidance, or advice about work‑related behaviour.
  • Reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment (e.g., managing a worker's performance, taking reasonable disciplinary actions, assigning work).

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.

If you feel that you are being bullied, discriminated against, victimized or subjected to any form of harassment, know that you are not alone and there is help available. If you feel you are being bullied:

  • Firmly tell the person that their behaviour is not acceptable and ask them to stop. You can ask a supervisor or your Union representative to be with you when you approach the person.
  • Keep a factual journal or diary of daily events. Record:
    • The date, time and what happened in as much detail as possible.
    • The names of witnesses.
    • The outcome of the event.
    • 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.
  • Keep copies of any letters, memos, e-mails, faxes, etc., received from the person.
  • Report the harassment to the person identified in your workplace policy, your supervisor, or a delegated manager. You can have a Union representative present when you report the harassment. You can also contact your UVP, VP, President, Cheif Shop Steward, Women's Advocate, or Chief Shop Steward if your concerns are minimized and/or you wish for more guidance, resources, and support.
  • Do not retaliate as it may end up that you look like the perpetrator and will most certainly cause confusion for those responsible for evaluating and responding to the situation.