Dealing with workplace bullying and harassment: 5 steps to shut it down

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Workplace bullying and harassment are serious concerns. These affect a person’s job performance and can cause trauma, loss of confidence, depression, anxiety disorders, even physical illness.

Harassment “is any objectionable conduct that creates a risk to the health of the worker; or severe conduct that adversely affects a worker’s psychological or physical well-being”. It can be in the form of written or verbal comments, physical attacks, gestures displays or a combination of all these (SAFE Work Manitoba).

Usually, harassment is something that happens repeatedly, over time. It can be a co-worker that makes fun of your gender or ethnicity whenever you’re in the room or a supervisor that rubs your shoulders despite repeated objections. However, a one-time incident that causes serious harm can also be considered harassment. An example is a co-worker who utters a death threat after an argument.

Harassment and bullying in the workplace can also be insidious, meaning it could be subtle and silent. Nobody else can see that it’s happening, and sometimes, you’re not sure that you’re being harassed or if it’s your fault. What’s certain is that you are left with a feeling of being intimidated, belittled or scared whenever you deal with that co-worker. An example is a colleague who consistently ignores your suggestions, puts down your work, or excludes you from work-related events (find more examples here: Is it harassment? A tool to guide employees). If you’re in this situation and you’ve had enough, here’s what you should do:

  1. Protect yourself

    Harassment of any form can take a toll on your mental and physical health. Self-care is extremely important in times like these. Confide in your partner, friend or a counsellor. Talking to someone you trust can provide relief and help you see the situation more clearly. Take a break if it’s possible so you can recover. Also use this time to identify solutions and weigh your options.

  2. Check your employee manual

    Know your rights. Every workplace should have policies and procedures that meet Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Regulations. Check the employee manual and see if your organization has an anti-harassment policy. Read the Code of Conduct as well as the complaint procedure. Learn about supports and resources available to you.

    Assess your next steps depending on the situation. Sometimes, it can be as simple as speaking directly to your co-worker and calling them out on their behaviour. As much as possible, aim for an amicable solution that will make the work environment better for all. However, it may not be so simple if the perpetrator is your supervisor (or someone higher up) or if the person is known to be problematic. In this case, ask for the help of a mediator for your protection. Otherwise – and especially if the mistreatment is grave – elevate it to HR so that you can get the necessary support.


    Worker to worker bullying and harassment, SAFEWorkManitoba

  4. Document it

    Keep a record of the incidences. Write down as much detail as possible. Note down names, witnesses, places, dates and the circumstances. Be accurate and objective. Remember that this will become part of an official record that will be read by others should you decide to file an official complaint.

    Keep documents and written proof (for example, disparaging emails or texts) to support your claim. It is important to keep records of your work performance including performance evaluations, memos or letters documenting the quality of your work. Your harasser (especially if it’s your supervisor) may resort to attacking your job performance.

    Keep your records in a safe place. It would be advisable to keep your records at home, or in your own computer.

  5. Ask for support

    There’s strength in numbers. Banding together with other victims can strengthen your case and pressure those in-charge to make changes in the workplace. Talk to your co-workers and contact former employees who have worked with the offending individual. Find out if they’ve had the same experience. Request them to write or report their own experiences and include their testimonies in your formal complaint.

  6. Report it

    Follow workplace guidelines for filing a harassment complaint. You may need to inform your immediate superior, the HR, or a specific person designated to deal with harassment cases. Make sure to keep a written record of your complaint or a written summary of the meeting.

    Your company’s HR should investigate and review your complaint. It should be treated seriously, speedily and confidentially. Your company should be able to assure you that you won’t be fired because of reporting a wrongdoing and protect you from any retaliation from the harasser.

    If you think that your company is not doing enough or has not handled your complaint fairly, you may consider getting outside legal help. If the concern is covered by the Human Rights Code, get the help of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

Sources: What is harassment?, Canadian Human Rights Commission; 10 tips for dealing with workplace harassment, Lolly Daskal. Inc.; Harrassment, Safe Work Manitoba; Manitoba Human Rights Commission. Accessed October 22, 2020.

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Community Resources

Find more resources on workplace harassment and prevention at SAFE Work Manitoba and The Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

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