Running a small business is never easy! As a small business owner, I am aware of the challenges of managing service delivery, marketing, sales and finances. A company owner wears many hats. My company helps businesses manage a very important legal obligation- workplace safety. The laws governing Occupational Health and Safety are complex and can be overwhelming. My team of experts helps companies understand workplace legislation and find practical solutions for their safety program.
Recently employers have been given a new challenge from WorkSafe BC: Address the issue of mental health in the workplace. Since the implementation of the new workplace legislation that came into effect on November 1st, 2013, employers across this province are required by law to eliminate bullying and harassment in the workplace.
Workplace Bullying and Harassment is defined as “any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a worker that the person knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated, but excludes any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment. This includes behaviour from the public or a client to a worker.
As the company owner, I have a legal obligation to do everything reasonable to protect my workers from conduct or comments that can be considered intimidating or humiliating. Recently, my employee was on a sales call in a local store. The intent of the sales call was to educate the store manager about the new legislation on Workplace Bullying and Harassment and to offer our professional services to develop a training program for his workplace. The manager grabbed my employee by the shoulders and spoke to her in an intimidating way. There is no question that his conduct and words were intended to intimidate.
The irony of the situation slapped me in the face. Here we are trying to educate business owners about Workplace Harassment and Bullying and my employee is the one who is attacked. As a result, I took the step to develop even more procedures for my sales team who work alone and engage extensively with the public.
Harassment and bullying has long been the topic of conversation in schools, but as a society we have been silent on this issue in the workplace. Harassment and Bullying are critical risk factors for mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. At the recent MAKE IT SAFE! Conference in Vancouver, BC held by the food and manufacturing industry occupational safety association, hundreds of delegates gathered to tackle this issue. Trevor Linden, founder of Club 16, spoke about the need for companies to demonstrate leadership.
Trevor Linden told us: “Leaders create a culture.” Great companies are taking leadership to eliminate toxic work environments. Successful business leaders understand that a healthy and happy workplace is a profitable workplace. I have been fortunate to work with great industry leaders such as the Jim Pattison Group. These companies are creating a culture of respect in the workplace.
In my recent conversations with the WorkSafeBC prevention officers in charge of Workplace Harassment and Bullying, many employers are still unaware of the new legislation. WSBC is already receiving numerous reports of Bullying and Harassment cases. Often in these cases the reporting procedures were unclear for the workforce and the employer did not complete an effective investigation into the complaint. Workplace Bullying and Harassment is very similar to other safety related issues. An employer has the opportunity to eliminate problems before they happen.
Now is the time for business owners to take action! If an employer can think through the possible situations that can lead to Workplace Harassment and Bullying, there is a greater chance that the employer can eliminate any conflict before it begins. If an employer can take the time to draft clear procedures in the event of a complaint, the easier time the employer will have addressing the complaint. A critical component is to fully understand and think through the investigation process. What would the employer need to document? How can the investigation get to the root cause of the problem?
I work with numerous companies to help them put together programs for Workplace Harassment and Bullying. My clients have the attitude that they want to take initiative to foster a respectful workplace. Happy workers are effective workers. A toxic work environment will poison relationships with customers and clients and choke productivity. The leaders in the business community are embracing this legislation to create workplaces where people are happy to go to work.