New bullying and harassment legislation that affects all BC employers
On July 1st, 2012 new legislation took effect adjusting “Bill 14”: the Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2011 (“The Act”). These amendments have been put in place to address the rise of bullying and harassment in the workplace in British Columbia.
Among these amendments you will find changes to terms used within The Act, as well as modified definitions.
Some examples are: the term “mental stress” is now “mental disorder”, the term “physician” is now “psychiatrist” and the definition of “violence in the workplace” has been expanded to include bullying and harassment.
What does this mean?
Previously an employee could go on compensable leave due to mental stress only if the stress was diagnosed by a physician and caused by “an acute reaction to an unexpected traumatic event arising out of and in the course of employment”. It was found however that physical disability claims were being treated differently than psychological disabilities and that was found to be discriminatory, hence the changes.
Going forward employees will not be able to obtain such a diagnosis from a general physician. Mental stress may be compensable if diagnosed by either a psychiatrist (covered by MSP) or a psychologist (not covered by MSP)and is caused by:
- A reaction to one or more traumatic events arising out of and in the course of employment or
- A significant workplace stressor, including bullying and harassment, or a cumulative series of such stressors, arising out of and in the course of the workers employment
This means that gradual onset, chronic stress and compounded reactions may be claimed. This in turn broadens the scope of compensable mental disorders.
The advice from Marino J. Sveinson, Employment and Labour Lawyer at Roper Greyell LLP, is, “Employers need to have appropriate policies and procedures to address the broadened scope of compensable mental disorder claims.”
What you need to know
During the transition, any claims that were made – but not finally adjudicated – before July 1st, 2012 will be treated under the new provision. Human Resource (HR) Management is responsible for some of the higher risk areas, for example the environmental aspects of the workplace/role/circumstances, management styles and troublesome clients/customers.
It is recommended that the following policies and procedures be solidly in place as preventative measures:
- Performance management and performance improvement programs
- Discipline/termination procedures
- Investigation procedures
- Proper execution of re-structuring of a business, transfers, promotions
- Management training on harassment, respectful management, investigation skills
- Employee training on collaboration, teamwork, professionalism, respect and empowerment coaching
WorkSafe BC (WSBC) is currently writing policy surrounding the legislation as well as creating a tool kit for both employers and employees. These kits will help both employers and employees understand what constitutes bullying and harassment, how to prevent it, identify it and deal with any challenges that may arise.
We are expecting the policy and kits to be released this fall.
What you need to do
If you are aware of potential liabilities within your organization now is the time to act. Don’t wait until a formal WSBC complaint or claim has been issued. Be proactive and seek support now.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us.
What we are doing
- We are keeping a close eye on the legislation and changes as they occur, and will advise you as this process unfolds
- We are keeping a balanced approach to our views on this new legislation, and how it will impact you and your employees
- We will be reviewing our active client’s handbooks/practices to ensure they have the right practices in place and we will contact you directly if we feel you need to make any changes
Once the kits and policies are finalized by WSBC we will be suggesting some best next steps. We will be providing tools and support to those organizations who request it as well as keeping you updated here. We want to ensure that you and your organization are confident in your ability to identify and prevent any possible future claims.
We are happy to come into your office to review your policies and procedures to ensure you are being as proactive as possible from an HR perspective.
As in most legislative changes such as this, the intentions are good – but the seven legislations that guide HR can be overwhelming. We support a balanced approach to any changes that need to occur within your policies and practices and at the same time we support ridding organizations of bullying and harassment. If you know there is a problem within your organization…take care of it now.